Psychographics : Our New Digs & The Dissipation of Culture Shock

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The above ticket was waiting for me after I knowingly parked at an expired meter and decided to chance it rather than go trollling the nearby shops for change and risk being late for an introductory meeting with a local developer in town. I took a breath before pulling it from my winshield wiper and as I opened it, thought: "Geeze, how much could it be? After all it's Sioux Falls...surely not the $36-$115 fine I was accustomed to back east." As I sat in my truck and scanned my bill for a "total due" I was shocked to find that not only was there no charge or penalty...but someone actually took the time to print up this ticket as a "courtesy notice" and thanked me for visiting downtown Sioux Falls. If this happened in Philadelphia, I would have been searching my surroundings for the hidden cameras and practical jokers at play.

Culture shock such as this has been occurring almost daily.  We have a new and surprising tale of random hospitality and kindness to share with our friends and family back home every week.  I know it must sound like we're simply "making the most of things" here but people in Sioux Falls, South Dakota really make New Hampshireites almost seem blase. 

We arrived here with what I think is a typically common mindset of those relocating or visiting from any major city. We ignorantly suffered the ego-centric assumption that a large population equated not only with a cosmopolitan lifestyle but with quality of amenities as well.

What we discovered rather quickly was that although there may be fewer offerings in a city 1/10th the size of Philadelphia, they were no less in quality. For example, my wife and I are foodies who have grown accustomed to big city privileges like:  Dean & Deluca, Eatily, Reading Terminal Market, The Italian Market, Carlino’s, DiBruno Bros., Wegmans, Chestnut Hill Coffee, Whole Foods, Fox and Obel and Trader Joe’s….we were shocked to find great butcher shops like Look’s Market & Cleavers as well as incredible local mainstream grocers (Hy-Vee and Pomegranite ) who not only stock what we thought were more obscure staples like: Mary’s Gone Crackers Pretzel Stix, Nut Thins, Haloumi, Boucheron, Jamon Iberico, Guanciale / Salame,  Sunbutter and Pop'd Kern… but also have cattle-chutes of  Melissa & Doug-sized  real shopping carts (in addition to the racing car carts of course) for “Shoppers in Training”.

The specialty markets here offer everything we thought was exclusive to big city markets or small European towns (cured meats from Italy, truffles, truffle honey & oil, fois gras, fennel pollen, Illy Coffee, etc…) There are also some amazing local coffee roasters here too… like Black Sheep and  Coffea Roasterie. The local Co-Op sells Peace Coffee and Breadico Breads (best I've ever had in the U.S.) made by David Nepolitano in his local garage turned commissary.

Wonderful beer & wines (Monk’s House of Ale Repute” and “Taylor’s Pantry”) although it is tough to find a reasonably priced ’09 Bordeaux ready to drink now.  

There are no Midwest high-concept restaurant giants or native geniuses like my Philly favorites: Michael Solmonov, Konstantinos Pitsillides, Pierre Calmels, Lee Styer, or Robert Halpern....and quite frankly they would probably only intimidate rather than impress here.

There are, however, restaurants like Bros. Brasserie who would give The Oyster Bar and Royal Tavern a good run for their money with an “Oh My God” burger of their own. A nice mature "old guard" sort of comfortable place: Minerva's, surprisingly wonderful gourmet Mediterranean fare from Saanas, fresh(ish) sushi from Sushi-Masa and cerebral, light-handed (and beautifully executed) haute cuisine from Minnihaha Country Club and Parker’s Bistro whose dishes would not be out of place beside many from the kitchens of Daniel Bouloud, Stephen Starr, Stephanie Izard, or Todd & Ellen Grey.

I think it’ll be a while before the South Dakota sees anything as progressive as Vedge or as hip as Amada, NoMad and Ichimura. But "The Cities" (Minneapolis and St. Paul) aren't too far off.  Nothing here comes close to Birchrunville Store Cafe, Dillworthtown Inn, Per Se, Lacroix or LeBec and that’s ok…we go back to the East Coast occasionally and will always take vacations.

But I do miss offerings like good Pho, Thai, sit down charc staples like Amis and Tria, The Kibitz Room and Wawa’s Turkey Shorties… with salt, pepper, oregano, oil mayo (lil bit) and extra meat (YES)! so perhaps there are few opportunities for me here…

Micromanagement: Are We Hovering Too Much?


The October 2012 issue of Psychology Today ran a feature written by Elizabeth Svoboda : “Lessons for Living: Five Surprising Principles for Living, Loving and Playing with Others. http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/201208/lessons-living.

The most interesting and relevant to me as a dad who wants to ensure that my wife and I are exercising a healthy amount of concern and protection was “Lesson #2: The Beauty of Benign Neglect” which discusses the opinions of relationship expert Michelle Givertz (California State University, Chico) and Hara Estroff Marano (author of A Nation of Wimps: The High Cost of Invasive Parenting). They discuss the fact that… “ It’s more harmful to overparent than underparent.”

Although I don’t see us as “helicopter parents” (and sure most helicopter parents wouldn’t see themselves as such) I think it bears keeping in mind for any parent this thought: “By not letting kids stumble over little things, parents prevent them from developing coping skills… without [these coping skills] kids don’t develop a sense of mastery and self-confidence”

The nub of the article is this: “Practicing benign neglect with your children is like inoculation…stepping back, giving kids the chance to recognize that you’re there for them even when you’re not hitched to their side, that they’re capable of picking themselves up when they fall down-is the only way they’ll internalize the strength of the parental bond and a sense of their own competence.”

There is a difference between "over-management" (i.e, managing details neglected by others) vs. "micro-management" (i.e, managing every step of every process and the minutia in between". 

Analytics: Breaking Down Gender Role "Reversals"

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I can’t help but think of my mother (or any other mom I’ve ever known) who never seemed worn from the challenges of keeping a house and raising children. I do remember plenty of performances by my parents that began with the following address to my father (who would be reclined in a chair watching football): “I need some help around here!!!”…but I can also remember thinking …”help with what!?”

Past performances dictates that when a man is the bread-winner of the family, he typically: mows the lawn, shovels the snow, changes light-bulbs, walks the dog, pays the bills, gasses up and fixes the cars, deals with vendors and contractors , etc…  But it now my understanding that when a hard-working woman is the bread-winner of the family, most of these household responsibilities are not assumed…rather they remain the “man’s work”.

Whether this is a result of pre-established gender identity or (as in my wife’s case) simply not having enough time due to an insane work schedule, I still find it pretty interesting.

I can therefore predict that, just because I’m filling, what is traditionally, a woman’s role in child rearing….my wife is not going to suddenly start taking out the trash or turning the lights out downstairs when it’s time to go to bed.

If she gets home early enough and is not feeling like she’s “cutting in” on my routine (I’m often guilty of taking on too much myself and not yielding or asking for help) my wife enjoys making dinner occasionally. Most often, and understandably, my wife prefers to spend some time with our two year old when she walks through the door and If I was working 80 hrs. / day and was able to come home early one day...I’d prefer to have more than just story-time before bed as quality time with my daughter. 

My wife also empties the dishwasher from time to time (although it is, admittedly, her least favorite thing to do on Earth) so now I’m trying to be more conscious about saying “Thank You” for that. Not only because I do appreciate it, but also because I’d like a few more “Thank You’s” myself.  After all... panti-pretzles don’t pick themselves up off the floor you know.

The Long Tail: Sacrificing Career For Family

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"I don't know any other father that does what you do."

 –My Mom

Shortly after the birth of our daughter my mother was utterly amazed that I cut the cord. When she (and most women of her generation) gave birth, men were not even permitted in the delivery room. Fathers-to-be paced the halls outside the waiting room until it was time to dole out cigars.

More and more women are sacrificing their social lives during their 20s and early 30s to continue their education and/or professional experience in lieu of settling down for a life like their mothers'. Today's ambitious women seem to be faced with a choice between the promise of a happy connected family or a powerful rewarding career. Positions of prestige once exclusive to young men who identify themselves and their worth by accomplishment and acquisition alone, are now within a woman’s reach as well...and the diving lines between the sexes are fading faster than a photo of Marty McFly before the Enchantment Under The Sea Dance.

Age-old gender roles, first popularized by our ancestral hunter-gatherers, are evolving.  It is the Indian Summer of a modern era in which women not only bring unique skill-sets to the table but often higher EQs as well. With an aptitude for complex problem solving and technical ability equal to that of a man's; woman are collectively extending their reach for the golden rungs. The result? An increasing number of women today (40%) are earning larger salaries than their male counterparts and are more commonly finding their way into executive leadership roles.

Anne Marie Slaughter is a professor of Politics and International Affairs at Princeton University and formerly the Dean of the Woodrow Wilson School. She also served as Director of Policy & Planning for the State Department. I had never heard of her until coming across a piece she wrote in The Atlantic entitled: “Why Women Still Can’t Have it All”. The July/August issue of Princeton Alumni Weekly Magazine (AKA: PAW) featured her follow-up perspective which discusses the responses she received from fellow Princetonians entitled: ”You Can’t Have it All” Although the subject matter is regarding working women, a lot of it translates directly to stay-at-home dads whose life-altering decisions to be with their children is (contrary to what I’ve been reading) similarly dismissed both socially and professionally as  a sign of weakness and lack of ambition.

The following excerpts are my favorites:

“…I have been consistently congratulated for making career choices that reflect great ambition, but often come at the expense of personal relationships…On the occasions that I do reveal the most important motivation behind my move, I am often met with subtle but noticeable eye rolls or worse, patronizing lectures…No more do I want to be unemployed than do I want to be the power woman who goes home after work to eat moo shu pork alone in her apartment. Why then should I be proud of investing in one goal, and be embarrassed of investing in the other?...Princeton taught me well how to succeed and how to value professional ambition. But after the cutthroat Ivy League environment, I am trying to teach myself to value relationships. Ironically, the only way I can do this is by looking at my relationships as a professional goal, the only thing I know how to attain.”   -Cale Salih ‘10

“Few things rival the deep satisfaction of having a profession that you love and have mastered. But one of those few things is the joy of deep connection to those we love...so why should we look [only] to the professional as the principle yardstick of prestige?”    -Nannerl Keohane: Former President of Duke and Wellesley

“As a society, as a university, we say we value family. But when women (or  men) choose family over professional promotion, they very often are devalued…I certainly am not suggesting that we should devalue professional ambition. But people must have the option of pursuing a different but equally respected path where we see them as peers who are investing equally…”      -Anne-Marie Slaughter ‘80



Dress Code: An Unspoken Message to My Daughter

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Although there wasn’t any shame or awkwardness initially upon making the sensible decision to stay home (like 650,000 other men in America),  not getting dressed for work has me in a funk lately….kind of like being sick.

If I wasn't showered, shaved and dressed it used to be because I had nothing to do or because I was sick….or worse depressed. Even if I had been working around the clock on a project or new restaurant opening, I would produce a fresh exterior on an un-showered body with hair that was at least washed in the sink…but there was some degree of effort there due to the fact that colleagues, clients, customers and superiors expected to see me looking presentable….and not being able to manage one's appearance would mean not being able to handle one's job. Now I keep catching myself completely un-kept due to simply not being able to pick up any semblance of a schedule in my new job...and it's been a bit overwhelming to say the least. 

It’s been well-documented that our external appearance has a direct correlation to how we feel internally. Whether or not one causes the other is debatable but unimportant. I'm no longer just working from home and handling the brunt of the domestic workload. I've been given a promotion.  I now have a new position and my new boss notices everything.

I am her primary reference for what it means to be an adult. It has just occurred to me that, not only are my spoken words and physical examples important, but so too is my perceptible level of confidence, self-respect and self-awareness…and the body language that accompanies.

If a dog can sense fear then I’m sure this smart little girl can detect my being mentally and physically organized. Starting tomorrow, I am going to wake up yet another hour earlier to look as good for my daughter as I would for any client.