Archive for category Manhood

Dad Gets Pissed at Being Called Good

At the Good Men Project today, a response to a dad who hates being called good.

Dad goes Andy Rooney on woman who praised his parenting

So this woman sees a man saddled with a one- and three-year-old disinfecting his shopping cart at Target. She calls him a good dad, the dad says thanks, but internally he’s seething.

“I absolutely hate it when strangers call me a ‘good dad,’” Matt Villano wrote in “Motherlode”, The New York Times parenting blog.

With no context — and no real basis for interpretation — the act of labeling someone a “good dad” suggests that most dads are, by our very nature as fathers, somehow less than “good.” That we don’t care. That we’re mostly cruel.

What’s more, the phrase evinces a heinous double standard: It’s not like strangers compliment women as being “good moms” for doting, loving and doing normal mom stuff.

You know what they say about opinions.

 

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I got a new job editing Dads and Families stories

To all of you who’ve followed Experiments in Manhood the past two years–thank you. Your readership and support—your contributions through comments or stories or hits—has led to a new opportunity.

I’m the new editor of the Dads & Families section at The Good Men Project, a multimedia company launched in 2009 to explore the notion of manhood and all its permutations in the 21st Century. It’s been called “a cerebral, new media alternative” to glossy men’s magazines.

It’s similar to what I’ve been doing on Experiments in Manhood, my weekly column on fatherhood, for the past two years, except on a much bigger scale, with much bigger ambition, and with an active global reach. With sections ranging from Sex & Relationships to Fiction, and specializing in the first person narrative, the GMP is a community of over 10,000 subscribers with over 3.8 million page views per month. Those numbers have been increasing each month.

For the redesigned Dads & Families section, I’m hoping to build out the strong base of contributors with first person narratives—raw, honest, specific, insightful—designed to give readers a distinct glimpse of dadhood. The Dads & Families section will also have news in all its permutations: original source-based reporting, reactions to breaking news, reviews and responses to dad literature and art, Q&As, product reviews, convention coverage—anything and everything that adds to this conversation about what it means to be a dad. There’s more on this ambition at my first post.

This dynamic and wide-ranging conversation is not limited to dads. While that subject will remain, there are many interpretations to it, many perspectives to be represented, from granddaughters and grandfathers, adoptees and surrogates, sons and fathers—I’m open to anything that illuminates an aspect of the experience. As a community-based resource, the content and the dialogue will be shaped by the community.

Subscribing is easy and it costs nothing, just hit the “Subscribe” button on the main navigation bar. As much as I’d appreciate you reading up on modern manhood, I’d be more interested in hearing what you have to say.

Experiments will still be active and updated, but posts on the GMP will be more regular, varied, and diverse.

Thanks for reading,

Duffer

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Illinois politics: a family divided

Though Illinois is dismissed as a Democratic state—or more accurately, a Democratic city that wags the tail of the state—there is a lot at state in today’s election. Specifically, a voter response to the most egregious property tax increases in Cook County history. The system is too quixotic to identify who exactly is responsible—the tax rate is established from budgets submitted by 31 municipalities in the county, so each village board of commissioners is responsible, as is the clerk who collects tax revenue, the assessor who evaluates property value, the county board of review who ensures that the rates are fair, and, since everyone’s got his hand in the cook county cookie tax jar, they’re all snakes in need of a thorough St. Patrick-ing.

This year, the property tax battle hits home even harder. Our humble burg has a referendum on the ballot to modernize four community centers at a cost of $48 million. Specifically, “The referendum funding would spread a $48 million bond issuance over a 25-year period. This would add an estimated $36 per year to the current tax bill of a home with a market value of $300,000.”

This $36 is dividing a family. Of the four of its members embroiled in this debate, only one is not employed by the government (and yes, I include teachers as being governmentally employed): me. The one on my side regarding the referendum, is a perennial fighter against any property tax increase. Keep in mind, we all vote Democratic though we’d never identify as Democrats. We’re split at 2-2, neutralizing each other’s votes. One member of the four, who we will call the arm twister, condescendingly offered to pay my $36 to vote for the referendum. A lump sum payment of $900 ($36×25) was not offered.

I agree that nicer park buildings would be nice. I pay for my kids’ classes housed in the gymnasiums of those buildings, which feature tiles floors and out of bounds that are indicated by cinder block walls. But hell no if I’m going to vote to increase a property tax bill. We’re talking need, and my need is greater; the property tax rate is at its highest in Cook County’s history, and has one of the highest median property tax rates in the United States, according to the watchdog site www.tax-rates.org.

Not only that, I pay more in property tax for a place with the same square footage (though the parcel size is larger) than I did while living in the city. To put it another way, I’m paying 14% more in property taxes for a similarly assessed property. For tiled-floor gyms and aging playgrounds. My response to the referendum is the same as it is to the incumbent state politicians responsible for the dire fiscal state of things in Illinois, which is shouldered by the jackasses like me who chose to live here: eat the dick.

Until I get tax relief, or at least some indication that property owners will stop having to bear the burden of incompetent government, I’m voting NO to the referendum and to this ship of fools that’s gotten us into this shipwreck. Unfortunately, I still don’t know who the captain is. I don’t have much to go on other than the Trib’s endorsements, which include brief justifications and Q & As with the politicians.

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Fixing a toilet: it’s easy

Even though terms like lock nut, nipple, and ball cock may intimidate you, fixing the fill valve on your toilet is pretty easy. Most problems in the toilet basin—slow fill, constant run, loose flapper—are caused by either a faulty fill valve or flush valve*. If you take off the lid of the basin, the fill valve is the tall pump device that extends through the bottom of the basin to the water supply. The flush valve is the flapper component, or the piece that is connected by a chain to the handle.

The path to success runs through here

Our toilet filled so slowly that it would take 10-15 minutes, a dual problem with the fill valve and the flapper (flush valve), and even then we’d have to jiggle the handle until it broke. With the handle broke, I finally had to open the $15 kit I bought at Ace a year ago. I spent more time thinking about the toilet than it took to fix it; the handle took two minutes, the fill valve less than an hour—despite my incompetence.

Most of the parts in the basin can be twisted off by hand or, if it’s been a while, with pliers.  Any kit comes with detailed instructions, all of which are easy enough to follow. There are a couple of points that should be addressed even before opening the kit. First, clean the bathroom. You’ll have to clean it again when you’re done so this might seem redundant, but consider this: toilets are put in a corner just like Baby, and due to the angles, you might find your face the closest it’s been to a toilet bowl since college. A wipe down will not suffice; trust me on this one. There’s some pockets of stink that can make the job take longer and be more disagreeable than it should.

Open the basin, see what you’re dealing with. What exactly is the problem? Flush it, watch it flow and fill. It shouldn’t take more than a minute. Then you can shut the water supply off—yes, it’s the handle in the wall behind the toilet. Turn it right. Flush the toilet—if the water supply is off it won’t refill. Try to get all water out of the basin with a sponge or by leaving the flapper open.

Unscrew the water supply line. By hand. This has been easy enough, yes? Feeling pretty stinking good about yourself at this point? This is where I had the problem. To replace the fill valve, you have to unscrew it from the bottom of the basin. The instructions say you can do this by hand. I could not. I wedged my head and shoulders in the corner, waved my plumber’s ass high in the air, and got at that lock nut with four different sets of pliers and a half-dozen wrenches, all of which stripped the plastic so bad that it was impossible to remove. The nut should be turned in the same direction as the nut you turned to take off the water supply line.

There was sweating and cursing, a standard for Duffer home repairs, and the dread that I would have to leave our half bathroom—the kids’ bathroom—in a state of disrepair for who knows how long. Remember, it took me over a year to finally open the kit and gut the toilet. I was hoping to have graduated from the classic Duffer work quotient for home repair: double the time and add a day.

At Ace the next morning, I bought a small, hand-held hacksaw, and sawed the shit out of the ‘threaded shank’, being careful not to jar the porcelain too much because if it cracked then I’d have to buy a new toilet and a plumber. Once that bastard was off I was done in 15 minutes. One other note, don’t throw away the tube that takes the water from the fill valve to the flapper contraption; kits don’t come with it. I would suggest scouring the valve for water deposits.

Then, turn the water supply back on, make sure nothing is leaking, then proudly sit on your throne and feel the power of the flush. Fixing a toilet, like something else you do with a toilet, is easy and incredibly satisfying.

* Other problems with a toilet can include a loose base or cracked porcelain. If the toilet’s cracked, get a new one. If it’s loose on the floor, or leaking, or generally looks like something is spewing from under it then you need a new wax ring, possibly a flange, which is the mount that keeps the toilet on the floor. When the boy was a toddler, he decided to drop a cup down the old wishing well; it got stuck in the neck and after a week of fruitless fishing, I finally called a plumber. It took him 2-3 hours to remove the toilet, replace the seal, refasten the toilet. I recommend a pro; it’s a big pain in the ass, especially given how heavy the toilet is and how messy your bathroom/hallway will become.

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Painting a Room in One Day, almost

The worst part about painting used to be the clean up; now it’s the next morning.

We painted our son’s room in a day. It felt like a much bigger accomplishment yesterday than it sounds now. Maybe because we’d been talking about painting his 12x10ft room for a year. And maybe it took us that long to get to it because it took us two weeks to paint our daughter’s room, which is smaller. The difference? Good paint and a sound plan.

We centered the furniture and cleared out the rest Thursday night, when my wife spackled the numerous holes. Friday night we sanded, touched up, taped the trim, and painted the ceiling. Cocktails were essential, as was music—reggae, bluegrass, Zydeco—anything simple, rhythmic, and bouncy. Yesterday was the real work: the baseboards, door frames, closet, and window frames took two coats of white, and the walls were painted Rocky Mountain blue or, as I called it, Smurf Dick.

This proved to be the difference: Benjamin Moore paint, not my juvenile name. Last weekend, we went to a specialty store and bought the mid-grade BM at $37 gallon. This was about $15 more than the Valspar we bought from Lowes for our daughter’s room. The Valspar took three coats on our plaster walls to get “Berries Galore” rich and consistent. One can of Benjamin Moore equaled one coat that looked great on the first application. And trust me, it wasn’t the painters. Last time, we had to make two trips, buy three cans of Valspar, and had to wait twice as long for it to dry. All tolled, Benjamin Moore was less expensive and far superior. If you’re reading this with the intention of painting a room to live in, don’t bother with the crap at Lowes or Home Depot.

(For a more objective review, ostensibly, of 25 paints, check out this Good Housekeeping analysis, which hates on my Benjamin Moore.)

(Since we have no idea if any of the reviewed paints also provide ad revenue for Good Housekeeping, also consider this most objective aggregated analysis by consumersearch.com.)

Another key to getting it done in a day was getting the kids out of the house. We finished by four pm and it looks good. Thanks, Busia, for letting us present each other with the Valentine’s Day gift that keeps on giving.

The worst part about painting used to be the clean up; now it’s the next morning. My wrists ache and small bones in my feet and back feel pinned together. The best part is that it’s done. Except putting on the doors and hanging the new blinds.

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I Snore

I snore. I try not to. I try to sleep on my side. I’ve tried sleeping on my stomach but it’s like being in a headlock. So I snore. It’s worse when I’m exhausted or if I’ve been drinking. It was at its worst last weekend, sharing a cheap hotel room in Venice Beach with my two buddies.

They’ve known my snoring since college. It was occasional then. It’s guaranteed now. I promised I’d sleep on my side. Get headlocked. We’d been on the beach all afternoon, on the boardwalk all night. I was tired; I’d been drinking. I snored.

We should’ve known better than to pinch pennies by stuffing three guys in one room. We’re 36. The room was so cramped, the beds so close, that my one friend kicked me whenever I started. Our other friend left in the middle of the night. Got his own room. No one slept well. They were annoyed. I was furious. I fucked you and fucked off more than the homeless drunks outside our hotel the night before. It was 7 a.m. Vacation. No kids.

I was pissed because I tried and I failed and I knew what they felt. Nothing tries one’s patience more than being kept awake by a snorer. Thoughts turn violent. The personality you love in waking hours is, at nighttime, a contemptible fool who needs medical help. Now. What is wrong with you? Why are you doing this? Look at you. Your eyebrows. The ear hair. Get. Help. Asshole.

Enter night

I know the bitterness. My brother snores. If we ever share a room, I know to get to sleep before him or spend the night in the tub. My dad has The Machine. The Mask. The CPAP. His friends sang of its sandman virtues. At first, even in the afternoon, he’d have creases in his cheeks and the bags of his eyes were purple and puffy. After more than a year and many adjustments, he has given it up. My brother and I can’t call him Lord Vader, anyway. We fear the futuristic mirror.

Dad has obstructive sleep apnea. It’s severe. Passages to the airway collapse in your sleep, you stop breathing, your oxygen levels drop, your brain shocks your body into action. You gasp. Hack. Sounds more like drowning than snoring. Then you’re back to normal. You keep snoring until the airway collapses again. This can happen dozens of times per minute. You can’t dream. You’re chronically tired. The National Heart Lung and Blood Institute says it can lead to other chronic illnesses, the least of which is your bedfellows hating you.

They were amused at why I was so pissed. I spewed the thoughts that had been churning since 4am, when it dawned on me that I’d ruined everyone’s night and I would henceforth be drowsily aware of every kick to my kidneys and every bark of my name. Never again would we share a room. I’d get the breathe-right strips; I’d prop myself up; I’d get breakfast.

How does my wife do it, they wondered. She falls asleep first. I’m not drinking. She says it’s not that bad otherwise. The only time I share a room with you meatheads is when we’re drinking, I told them. Self-preservation of the friendship.

The next night we got a suite. I got the pull out. From the bedroom, door closed, my one friend said it sounded like I was getting choked, dying. Sounds like apnea. Sounds like I can no longer sleep on it.

 

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Christmas gift ideas: the five best toys ever

With Christmas less than two weeks away, there is still plenty of time to get gifts for the family. If you’re in this camp (not this one), then you’ve probably just begun to consider what to get your kids. When you find yourself, on December 24 perhaps, tight on time or tight on cash, don’t overlook these perennial children’s toys, which may not be best sellers but are certainly favorites.

Jonathan Liu, one of the writers for Wired magazine’s super cool dad-blog, Geek Dad, compiled this list of classic toys after last years holiday madness. It’s been reposted on Facebook and other social media, and we only have permission to post the first of five great gift ideas here, but I think you will recognize its value and head over to the Geek Dad page. Either way, Happy Hunting.

“So to help you out, I’ve worked really hard to narrow down this list to five items that no kid should be without. All five should fit easily within any budget, and are appropriate for a wide age range so you get the most play out of each one. These are time-tested and kid-approved! And as a bonus, these five can be combined for extra-super-happy-fun-time.

"A Gripping Scene" from Flickr user chefranden. Creative Commons License.

1. Stick

What’s brown and sticky? A Stick.

This versatile toy is a real classic — chances are your great-great-grandparents played with one, and your kids have probably discovered it for themselves as well. It’s a required ingredient for Stickball, of course, but it’s so much more. Stick works really well as a poker, digger and reach-extender. It can also be combined with many other toys (both from this list and otherwise) to perform even more functions.”

Click here for the rest of the article.

If you enjoy it, check out the companion piece, 6th Best Toy.

And, to stay contemporary with this millennial generation while remaining in the theme of Jonathan’s ecofriendly take on toys, I’d like to add another new classic: the empty water bottle.

Rocket launcher

Costing nothing and momentarily saving landfills, the water bottle is as versatile as the stick. It’s a virtuoso’s instrument: bang on it as a drum, or use it as a drumstick and drum in one, or blow into it as a plasticwind, or use it even as a voice distorter. It can be spun in a game for less wholesome though altogether essential purposes, and it can bounce, it can be caught, it can be thrown, and, if you held onto the cap, it can act as a rocket launcher. Just loosely set the cap on, place the bottle on its side on the ground, have your toddler jump on the bottle, and boom goes the cap.

Thanks to Jonathan Liu and the guys at Geek-Dad for permission to use the piece and for helping to raise Geek Generation 2.0. Also a big thanks to Experiments follower and staunch anti-parent, SWKooiker, for turning me on to Geek Dad.

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Bring out the Grinch

It has begun. Not the Costco kind of Christmas displays before Halloween but the full on yuletide yoyos. And I was Griswald.

Since I had to drag the kids with me to pick up work downtown, I decided to treat them to the Chicago Toy and Game Fair. I prefaced it by saying we would only be buying Christmas gifts for others. But I wanted to buy every thing there.

citiblocs

The first exhibitor was freakin’ Legoland. I didn’t have Legos as a kid, or if I did I acutely knew the true Lego kids, so my kids have a shit ton of Legos. But they play with them every day. Five minutes into the Expo I had to drag away my begging son to the next exhibitor. By the end he’d forgotten all about the overpriced Danish brick.

We lost a half hour playing with citiblocs, or hipster Lincoln logs, then we had a cookie, played Bug Out, rode cars, mugged with Darth Vader, hopped on a pogo stick, watched a shark fly to the ceiling, then mini helicopters, scribbled on Doodle Rolls, played catch with a hand trampoline and finally had lunch at 4pm. I blew $50 and that was with full restraint. Could’ve spent $500.

Then the kids talked me into Happy Feet Two at the IMAX. And yes, even dancing singing preachy penguins can be cool on 60 three-dimensional feet.

Now I must tell you about parking, for all of the fatherhood wonders there is nothing like parking that can make or break an adventure. When we arrived the garage was full, and cycling around the pier, I found a side road, a quarter block really, east of the new park between Grand and Ohio and just west and under LSD. There were maybe ten cars on either side; the west side of this quarter block, by the park, had a pay box, but the side opposite had nothing except the green curtain of the construction site. No pay box. I linger on the details because I wish that you would park there, even if you have no business there, just to park for free in the city, in an area where $3/hr is a steal, and garages cost you $26, park in this 10-spot Xanadu, sit at the end of the block if you want and watch all the people fighting for parking and racing against tickets and emptying their wallets in the garages; go out on a Saturday or Sunday when there’s no construction, go out and park, my friend, park and revel for free, park for free in this City of Fines and tell me you don’t believe in a god.

My blessedness ended abruptly.

Tail lights stacked red like an orgy of depraved elves. Even a fire engine wasn’t moving. I cut over; all west bound lanes were closed. Pedestrians were out like occupiers. The lit the tree. What could be stupider than a shut-down-the-street-tree-lighting ceremony? A fucking parade. There, after eight hours at Navy Pier, I was caught in premature Christmas ejaculate on the Malfeasant Mile, saying words the kids said I shouldn’t be saying.

Took a half-hour to circle back around to Columbus to get over the river and out of Ho-Ho-Hell when, what to my wondering eyes should appear? Fireworks. The kids put down their windows, told me to stop, gawker walkers spilled onto the street, and we crawled over the bridge. But now this was very cool: the police had blocked off the middle of the bridge, presumably so the barge launching the fireworks between the Columbus and Michigan bridges wouldn’t shoot anybody’s eye out. We got a drive-by firework show, at eye-level. A moment of splendor: the Grinch’s heart grew three sizes that day. The spectacle ended as soon as we crossed the bridge. Then we were outta there.  Enough for one season.

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Two TVs: a microbiography

We got a second TV. It was gifted by my dad, who bought 70” of television. It dominates the wall above his fireplace. It is impossible to look away; you must look into the light.

Not long ago I didn’t have TV one or two. TV one was the first TV I ever owned: a 42” Panasonic plasma that we bought as a housewarming for our first marital residence. So six years ago, no TV. No wife, no kids, no career, no car. No clue, my brother would say, then call me a Luddite.

There is something about TV that I don’t trust. Once there, it’s always there. Its omnipotence in front rooms, living rooms, family rooms—whatever you call the room where people gather—is unsettling. The seats in the room are trained on it, the people in the room feel awkward when it’s off because it is such a big looming presence, demanding attention, like drunk Uncle Bob. It can take the place of conversation, which in many ways, like during family parties, can be one of its virtues.

I’m obviously conflicted. I grew up with one TV. Eventually, with the advent of cable television, we even got a remote control. And, thanks to the ingenuity of my brother, we never had a cable bill. In college my roommates had TV, including a 13-inch black and white one freshman year that was used exclusively for Tecmo Bowl. Everyone on our floor wanted to play, so much so that we had to set up times for tournaments. Playing old school video games on an even older school TV was hip. After college, in my bohemian phase, I didn’t want any possessions, especially a TV. Possessions weigh you down, man, keep you tied to one place.

There is truth to that, but it’s a truth whose pertinence has faded with the inability to pack my car and go. For two years in my first apartment, a studio in Chicago that couldn’t hold much more than my car, I had no TV. When I wasn’t bartending or in grad school classes, or doing the two things associated with either (reading, writing, or drinking at other bars), I was sleeping. If there was a game on I’d go to the sports bar where I worked; a political debate I’d go to the bar next to my building. I didn’t miss TV, but significant portions of those two years, in the often quiet times when I wasn’t dating, were lonely. TV staves off the quiet, it blasts out introspection and reflection. Another of its virtues.

Then there was another roommate, a best friend who caught me jerking off at his tv; then the first place I owned, where I lived three more years without a TV. I did have, however, a 16-inch computer screen to watch movies. On closeups the character’s top hairs and lower chins were cut off and every ten minutes I had to click the keyboard to keep it from screen saver mode. It was an interactive experience.

Now we have two TVs. Like most things with age, I’m getting used to it. The old one is in my basement office, which doubles as a guest room. It may become the kids Wii TV. We’ll keep it till it burns out. Last week I was able to work while football games and parts of the World Series played silently on the TV. It was lovely.

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Day 3 of being powerless

It hasn’t been a total inconvenience. Cleaning out the fridge and freezer was a whole lot easier. Kids have been staying up late with a campfire, and we’ve been telling stories instead of reading them. Creative play has increased right along with competitive fighting. Flashlights have become a weapon.

But three days in, the novelty is over.

ComEd sucks

Taking a shit in the hot dark—what could only be called a shitbox—has given me a real respect for modern conveniences of the middle class.

Garage door openers

Automatic ice makers

Electric nannies like Word Girl and Phineas and Ferb and Wii

The option to have a freezer section sampling in your home

The world wide internet

Cable television

Ceiling fans

Popsicles

Cool conditioned air

Being a stay at home dad while Wife works crazy hours to make up for what I lack, however, means that most of my domestic and professional production is done at night. The house is a mess. Writing momentum has been stopped. I wrote by Citronella moonlight the first night. It was a strain. The neighborhood has been roaring with neighbors’ generators instead of cicadas. And while it has been fascinating to think of what one was before houses were tied into massive webs of electricity, I do not long for a simpler time. Things, from washing dishes to wiping asses, take a lot longer and move at a much slower pace. I don’t miss TV but I do miss reading a book before I go to bed. The finality of flipping a switch to go to sleep, powering down. I suppose you could get that finality of the day from blowing out a candle. But I’m a modern man and I’m a slave to ComfuckingEd.

Debuting this Sunday on Experiments in Manhood will be a new feature of guest columns. The first will be by author Ben Tanzer hitting the bigger questions by looking at how his father’s premature death affects Tanzer’s relationship with his own kids.

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