10 Armpit Hairs

Frazetta the Incredible

Here’s my list for the ten best Dad-dito moments of 2012. These are in no particular order.

  1. My son got his first armpit hair and has underarm body odor. He is now wearing an adult size shoe. Puberty is around the corner. But the happy smile on my son’s face as he lifted his arm to show off his BO has been more than worth the price of this early transition. He is slowly emerging as a sexual being, one hair and smell at a time. “Hey Dad-dito, smell this!” has taken on a whole new meaning.
  2. My son read a book about puberty called What’s Going On Down There, by Gravelle and Castro. He laughed at the big nose/small penis jokes inside and the cartoon line drawings. It had a section about being Gay and a section on girls and provoked discussion for a good month afterwards. He read it cover to cover. I can’t recommend this book for boys enough (age 10-14).
  3. We saw The Hobbit together and loved it. We saw John Carter of Mars together and loved it. My son chose to see these movies with me over seeing them with his friends. That won’t happen much longer so I’m grateful for these moments while I have them. This was the year we graduated to live action films. We still see lots of animated films and that is good because I love animated films also but a corner was turned.
  4. Mom-ita and I survived M-ito going to sleep-away camp for two weeks. We survived. He survived. I don’t know if he’s going back again this summer but… we all learned something about being apart from each other. I learn over and over again how much I love my son and my wife. And I will never forget how it felt to say goodbye.
  5. Ratzo’s zombie apocalypse almost took over the world on my son’s birthday. For the third year in a row my son asked me to create a live roleplaying save-the-world from super villain Ratzo birthday adventure. He says he wants a fourth go at it. I hope I have it in me.
  6. My son said he has classes that he enjoys in school. Seriously, this year, 5th grade, he actually said Fridays are his favorite day at school and he does not want to miss it. I practically had a heart attack. He has a day he wants to go to school! His favorite classes are Drama (they play great theatre games) which he has twice on Friday, and Percussion (he loves the xylophone). The only thing that would make it better would be if he had art class too.
  7. My son read all 24 books in The Warriors series. He loved this series so much he actually said, “I wish this didn’t have to end.” What else can I say?
  8. My son played soccer at school on their B-team. This was the first time he’s ever played an organized team sport. They lost all of their games but scored goals in 3 of their 5 games. It was wonderful watching him play. He says he didn’t enjoy it but I think he enjoyed the experience overall. Mostly I enjoyed going to two of the games, standing on the sidelines, and watching the same way my father did with me when I played baseball, football, and rugby. My father came to both games also so for a few moments in time we watched M-ito play together.
  9. M-ito received his purple belt in Taekwondo. He is 60% of the way to his black belt. Watching him do his forms, break boards, and spar was one of the most nerve-wracking things I’ve done as a father. He was near perfect in all three aspects, though he had to persevere through hitting his board with his knuckles six times before the board finally broke. That’s character and guts. Ouch.
  10. Hurricane Sandy left my Rockaway in-laws homeless and Pop-pop, my father in=law, living with us for two months while the ground floor of his home was rebuilt. M-ito gave up his room and slept with us. For a few weeks one of Mom-itas sisters stayed with us also on the living room couch. Many nights were spent with the three men sitting together on the sofa watching The Big Bang Theory. We survived the holidays together. We’re all still talking so I count it a success. I also have an image of my shirt-less father in-law walking around our apartment scratching his stomach that I can’t get rid of and a few moments of we’re living in close quarters, I have no privacy, somebody get me out of this nut-house, and I just want to get in bed get under the covers and pull them up over my head, that I’ll keep close to me but in the end I think it all balances out.

I come back to this again and again. It is the hardest job I have – being a father. I need a beginners mind for just about everything I do as one and I have to learn quickly in order to keep up with my son. It is frustrating. It is heartbreaking, sometimes boring (helping with homework), fun, terrifying, daunting, maddening, makes me full of rage some days and pride on others. It is also the most fulfilling and wonderful job I have and I would not trade it in for anything.

Three Nasty Gnarlies

M-ito on contraception. “So if you want to have a baby you can’t use a condom or diaphragm or anything like that. Right?”

My response after taking a moment to allow the question to sink in: “You got it.”

M-ito: “Then why do they say in the book that you have to use a condom?”

Dad-dito: “That’s to stop you from getting any sexually transmitted diseases like syphilis or gonorrhea.”

M-ito: “And that one with the c at the beginning?”

D: “Chlamydia?”

M: “That’s the one. They’ve got great cartoons of them – they look like the Three Nasty Gnarlies*.”

D: “Yup. The first three you can cure or get rid of and others like HIV/AIDS -”

M: “HIV – ”

D: “- you can’t. Once you get HIV you have it for life. That’s probably why they talk so much about condoms and using some kind of protection.”

M: “Okay. But … to have a baby you can’t use them, right? I figured that out?”

D: “You did.”

Thank you What’s Going On Down There Karen Gravelle, Nick and Chava Castro!

*One of Mom-ita, M-ito, and my favorite children’s books ever by Keith Graves.

Sex Books

What's Going on Down There?: Answers to Questions Boys Find Hard to Ask

Mom-ita came in guns firing. She hit Amazon’s book section and found pages of books on puberty for boys. Within 36 hours three were on our doorstep.

“We’ve got books on sex coming your way,” I told M-ito.

He nodded.

“No, really. Your mom and I bought a few books on sex and puberty that can help answer questions for you about puberty and what’s going on with your body.”

“Okay,” he said.

I read through quickly, skimmed is the appropriate word ,all three and chose the one I thought would be the best fit: What’s Going on Down There? by Karen Gravelle with Nick and Chava Castro (an 11 and 13-year old boy). The other two books were written by women only. The boys’ perspectives were what swayed me. That and the illustrations. Oh and two chapters in particular: 1) one on what’s happening to girl’s bodies so the boys know what they’re going through, and 2) one on sexual orientation that talks about being gay, straight, and bisexual in simple, clear, affirming language. I showed M-ito a cartoon of five different versions of a naked male, boy to man (small with no hair to hung and hairy). This made him laugh. Another cartoon of a boy on a skateboard looking down into his own pants made him laugh harder. Three hours later he came up for air, having finished the book.

Two questions came up. “What’s an orgasm?” and “What’s an abortion? ”  “They use the words but don’t explain them.” He asked me these questions. Bingo. How I answered is not important (something about sensitive areas creating an electrical ball of lightning or ejaculation – I might have said something about the holy grail but I’m not sure – and then stopping a pregnancy early). Of course I over-answered on abortion as I couldn’t help explaining my political position on the issue. I spoke most of that part to his up-raised hand signaling me to stop.

And so, for now I think our job is done. M-ito is back to reading Inheritance by Paolini – an island before the next stretch of open sea.

Buddha Sutra

The Buddha, in talking about our own true nature, gives a talk on the four kinds of horses: the excellent horse, the good horse, the poor horse, and the very bad horse. I’m reading Pema Chodron’s The Wisdon of No Excape and the Path of Loving Kindness (only she could group those two statements together and get away with it) and she talks about this teaching with regard to our approach to meditation. The moral of the story is it doesn’t matter whether you are the excellent horse or the very bad horse because in any case it simply is your nature and you will learn from and through it.

When it comes to meditation I konw I’m the very bad horse. My innate “badness” at the task is probably what makes me teach it well. I have to really work at meditation and I make lots of mistakes from which I learn what to do and what not to do next time. This insight would have been lost on me if I’d simply started meditating and found samadhi. I’d be telling everybody, gee all you have to do is sit down, stop the chattering of your mind and find the peace that resides within. No big deal, see? Watch and I’ll show you. You can cross your legs into lotus, can’t you?

I was wondering how this would translate into fatherhood. First, what kind of father am I and then how does that then relate to my own true father nature? But perhaps here I have to also add in, How does it effect my son and my family? Not as simple as in the meditative analogy – my mind is chattering away like a monkey (monkey mind supreme) but I’ll learn how to manage it in a year or two and then, oh boy, then I’ll have such insight on it. When it comes to being a Dad-dito, any mistakes I make, well… my son feels them in the here and now. I lose my temper over him taking too long to get out of the house on a school day and my son hears me yell. He cries. I cry. We both suffer. Him for getting scared at my yelling and me because of the my own terrible guilt over yelling at him and seeing him get upset. And the lesson? Don’t yell. Get up earlier. Simple really but the drive to get more sleep is deep and insistent. It’s an interesting paralell.

I hear my own father and many other parents of his generation say, “I hope I was a good father to you,” and looking back now I can say he was (and still is), though at different times I’ve gone up and down on the rating scale depending on how our relationship is going- none of which makes me love him any less. I don’t think any of us wants to think of ouselves as the very poor horse when it comes to being a father – even though I know there are times I clearly am – perhaps more than I care to admit. At those times, I take it to heart that though my son has suffered through my inability to get on track, if I at least learn something from the experience and do better next time, he may not have to suffer in quite the same way again. I may be a very bad horse out of the starting gate but I’m an excellent horse on the turns. It’s good to know there are turns up ahead. The straight-aways make me humble. The turns make me smile. Or maybe it’s the other way around.

Do Unto Otters

Do unto Otters: A book About Manners, by Laurie Keller has been our guide this month in behavior change. It’s a variation on the golden rule “Do unto Otters as you would have Otters do unto you.” So says owl when Rabbit asks him about his new neighbors, the Otters, and his concerns about how they will get along.

The first week of school is always stressful but this year has been even more so. And M-ito’s behavior at home has not been up to par. M-ito has told us that he always follows rules of good manners in school, but not when we’re home. This made us pause and think. Why would this be? We’ve always said he has to have good manners with everybody. Bad manners in this case seemed to go along with starting school – the same thing happened last year. We think it’s because he tries so hard to “be good” in school that when he comes home he lets loose. This means grumpy, sullen, dismissive, quiet, yelling. Perhaps this is all school age kids when they are finished with school.

Now we know all kids are tired after school – it’s a long day – but yelling, tantrums, attitude, and non-responsiveness in tidal wave proportions is a bit much. So we had another sit-down with M-ito after a huge fight about not wanting to take a shower – ever. We’re down to two days a week at this point but that’s as low as we’ll go. Stinky-boy can not rule all the time. So these are the rules and regulations we came up with, together, after a morning of fighting, a day of Mom-ita and me feeling terrible because of the fight we had, and en evening of calm:

  • listen to each other (no hands covering ears, no turning away when someones talking to him)
  • no flicking fingers or dismissive waves of the hand
  • say please, excuse me, and thank you (loud enough so the other person hears it, and it only counts if it sounds like it’s meant!)
  • take a shower without complaints or delays when asked to (consequence of not doing so is taking a bath!)
  • put dishes away after each meal
  • help set the table for meals
  • put toys away after playing with them
  • no hitting (already in place but good to have on the list as a reminder!)

We’ve had three days of peace since posting the list. M-ito seems to have found his bearings and our stomachs are all feeling more settled, school-wise and home-wise.

How do you die?

Mom-ita told me of this conversation when I came home from work last week.

“Mom-ita, how do you die?” he asked her. They were lying down in bed having their morning conversation. I was long gone and off to work.

“You get really sick or you get old or something happens to you like a bad accident.”

“No, Mom-ita. I know that. What I mean is, do you lay down and just … die?”

“Well … not really. You – it could happen but it depends on how you die.”

“Well, how does it happen?”

“Well, some people are lying down.”

“Was Gran-ita lying down? Was that what happened to Gran-ita?”

“Yes, that’s what happened to her. She was lying down when she died.”

“I’m sad about that Mom-ita. You know, the way you were sad about Gran-ita.”

Gran-ita died the end of last January, a long seven months ago. M-ito knew her physically as someone who had tubes coming out of her nose and who needed a wheel chair to get around and who was always out of breath. She also was on oxygen for a good year so when we went over to Gran-ita and Pop-pop’s house M-ito had to step over lines of tubing and be careful of them as he played. It didn’t seem to bother him so much as challenge him. He asked a lot of questions then and we went over what we believe with him – we told him about his soul or spirit, that it goes up into the sky when you die, that the body goes back into the earth because it’s no longer alive, that the spirit may come back as another human or creature, that the divine spirit is in all of us and that Gran’s spirit will return in some way, shape or form. He seems to be comforted by the idea of reincarnation – or maybe that’s just me. He says he was once a velociraptor. He wants to come back next trip as an animal, perhaps a dog.

Me, I’m just glad Mom-ita gets these kinds of questions to answer and not me.

Note: The following book, Natural Family Living – by Peggy O’Mara – Peggy O’Mara has a great section on how to deal with death and the death of a family member that is very practical, concrete and helpful.

Parenting Books

Most books on being a father are joke books written by comics. Where are the books about fatherhood that you get your friend who has developed the blank stare of a soon-to-be father that I too once wore? Where are the books that will speak to him? There’s Working Fathers, The Complete Idiot’s Guide, Bill Cosby’s Fatherhood, Wisdom of Our Fathers, and Strong Father’s Strong Daughters. Okay, it’s a list and I’ve not read any of them, except I looked at The Idiots Guide once. Hey, I’ve found the series useful in the past. So here are my favorite books for fathers, the must-have list from my perspective (you’ll note that only one is for fathers specifically and the rest are for parents):

1. Zen and the Art of Fatherhood, by Steven Lewis – His book is sometimes hard to find but I believe it’s newly back in print. It’s a funny, funny book, but not a book by a comic. Lewis’ book is about what it means to become a Dad from the ground up. With seven kids of his own, he should know. One practical chapter on what to do when your little boy/girl has a tantrum at a friends house while you’re having dinner, stuck with me until my son was three and it happened to me. What does he say to do? Sometimes you just have to pick them up under your arm and go home. Know when you can stay and know when you can leave. It’s all about knowing your chil, knowing what’s best for them, and letting go of what you want to do. My wife bought me this before M-ito was born and it really helped to bring me to ground.

2. Zen Parenting, by Judith Costello and Jurgen Haver – This is a terrific book about creating space as a parent for your child to grow. The Zen perspective is woven throughout this short, but highly readable gem. My favorite section tells a story about an executive who, every day reminds himself to one thing for his family, one thing for himself, and one thing for the world. Just read the book and the whole thing will be in context.

3. The Baby Book, by Wiliam and Martha Sears – This is the huge book that saved my wife and my lives (and probably M-ito’s) time and time again when he was an infant. For me the single most helpful, hands on, what do I do now that my: son’s nose is running, has developed a rash, is crying and I can’t stop him, has a fever, etc… These guys rock on all the early childhood stuff. Easy reading also.

4. Natural Family Living – by Peggy O’Mara – Peggy O’Mara is wonderful. I bow down at her feet. Besides being the Publisher of Mothering Magazine, she is also the author of this terrific book on parenting. I found it only last year but the section on how to deal with the death of a family member was the most practical and helpful chapter I have ever seen. M-ito’s grandmother died a few months ago and it was invaluable in helping us to help him through the difficult time. The section on schools and older kids stuff is also very helpful. She’s a good writer to-boot.

5. Positive Parenting – Alvin Eden, MD – When we were in desperate need of something simpler we came to this book by our pediatrician. He’s a grouchy, curmudgeonly old doc who knows his stuff and children. The book is mass market paperback in size, shorter, and the chapters on developmental behavior were helpful in explaining what was going on with M-ito at early ages. Sometimes we needed two books to read on the same material to get two different takes. This was book number two.