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Entries in Fatherhood (4)


When Did I Realize I was a Father for the First Time?

I was recently sharing this embarrassing story with my children as an example of where learning about child rearing takes time and schooling (classes, books, family and friends.) It is something you need to learn.

In my case, the transition from BC (Before Children) to parenting occurred gradually.  Sure, I was at the conception.  As the pregnancy went on, my wife had pre-eclampsia (called toxemia in the dark ages), and spent the last month of her pregnancy lying on her left side to help with elevated blood pressure.   Our lives went from being fairly active to sedentary, and we watched many entertainment videos to pass the time.

The childbirth was uneventful and baby and mom were fine.  We were very excited with the baby we created and looked forward to our new roles as parents.

One night, shortly after we got home from the hospital, found us preparing dinner at home.  My wife and I put the baby to bed for the night, went downstairs and had a nice dinner. We then decided we had to run over to a local store.

We both hopped in the car, and off we went. We drove out of the driveway and into the street, and came to a dead stop.

“Oh my God, the baby is upstairs. We can’t do this!”

It was right then and there the magnitude of our new responsibilities hit me…and hard.

Thankfully, our learning experience did not cause a problem. However, it was the wake up message we needed around our new responsibilities and we never repeated the same mistake.

It was scary to think about how close we came to a really bad situation.

When did it hit you parenting was your new role?


What is Father's Day?

“You’re going to be served divorce papers at work tomorrow.  And I am going to sue for sole custody of the kids.”

My stomach flipped.  How nice of my soon to be ex-wife to give me a heads up on a Sunday night at bedtime.  It was hard to blame her; we were separated and had been for years.  Our ‘plans’ to have an amicable divorce seemed to be changing.

Immediately changing attorneys, my new attorney had a reputation of being a fire breather.  And he could meet me Monday morning.

“I don’t care about anything except the kids, and will settle for nothing less that joint custody.”  “Well Mr. Kelley, in the Commonwealth that doesn’t happen often,” cited the fire breather.  “If you don’t believe you will succeed, then I have selected the wrong attorney.”  With a slight smile, the lawyer reached for the phone.

Father’s Day is a misnomer.  In fact, it is a huge misnomer.  If up to me, Father’s Day would occur whenever a child is conceived.  Being a Father is a lifetime commitment.  It’s something to be celebrated every day.

“There is no need to serve Mr. Kelley papers at his place of business.  I represent him, and you can send the papers to me.  What are the elements of the complaint?”  Suddenly the fire breather was showing some stuff, declaring who was in charge.  It was strangely reassuring.

Becoming a father is actually pretty easy and generally enjoyable.  There are really no prerequisites other than an ability to procreate and a partner.  Becoming a DAD is far more difficult, particularly with the lousy instruction guide provided with children.  It is hard to explain to people without children the range of emotions, yes the sheer excitement, enjoyment, terror, pride, and…well, all those other emotions present with children.

“So Mrs. Kelley would like to have sole custody because Mr. Kelley is an unfit parent?”


“Well, Mr. Kelley is countersuing Mrs. Kelley as an unfit parent as well.  So the children will have to immediately be moved to foster care.  Will you check with your client and see if that’s her desire?”

Whoa.  What happened to the kids being non-negotiable?  All my memories of my middle and elementary school kids started flashing through my mind…the birthdays, holidays, school projects (school projects are actually teachers getting back at parents), snuggling watching cartoons, building snow forts, swimming in the lake, flying kites, playing with pets, teaching them to be good human beings….  My stomach was getting ill….where can I throw up.

“Very good, joint custody it will be.”

And with that, the more mundane parts of the divorce transaction continued, splitting up a lifetime of dreams.  My friend once said, “Nobody gets wealthy in a divorce.”  Truer words were never spoken.

Parents who skip out after that single blissful moment are enigmas to me.  You were mature enough to have sex, and then not mature enough to raise your children?  You don’t stay to teach and support them emotionally for a lifetime?  To be the benefactor of their highs, and the soft shoulder for their lows?

And yes, I understand there are many so called “non-traditional” parenting arrangements.  Anyone participating in raising a child should be able to celebrate “Father’s Day,” whether they are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender, whether they are a biological or “step” parent, whether they are a teacher or simply a shopkeeper making time to frame a young mind.  They say on St Patrick’s Day everyone is Irish; why can’t anyone contributing to raising a child celebrate a day, too? 

Yes, I have strong personal feelings on this and thank you for hanging in there as I spout off.  There are so many adults still struggling with the aftermath of an absentee and or abusive father….isn’t this a form of child abuse?

As I struggled with this topic, I turned to my late 20-something kids for help.  What are the characteristics of a great Father?

This started off a series of emails:

  • I always picture the father being someone who goes to all the sporting events, gives you financial advice, being the provider & protector of the family.
  • A good father is proud and supportive no matter what.  I agree a father should be protective.  A good father will teach his children.  Right from wrong.  Life lessons. How to deal with stress :) a good father loves and will do whatever it takes to help his kids have a better life. But I think this all goes for either parent so it will be hard not to come off as sexist! 
  • A good father knows how to “boil in a bag dinners” and take his daughter’s sick hamster to the vet :)
  • Or build tree houses and drive speed boats.
  • Teach how to ride a bike without training wheels :)
  • A good father will be patient and understanding when they buy their son a vehicle with a manual transmission and realize they weren’t ready and get an automatic.
  • A good father will remember to pick their kids up after the Jimmy Fund walk. Hint hint.
  • A good father will remember sun screen awwww.
  • Vacations in NH.
  • Strip clubs.  (Ok I don’t care if that hasn’t happened yet.)
  • Trust their children (to a point.)
  • Teach their kids the stove is hot.
  • How to aerate lawns…a lawn is 90% water.

I am proud to be a father, a dad, and I love my kids everyday.


Divorce Living Arrangements

“I want a divorce, I want to be free.”

Those words, spoken by my (now ex) wife over dinner at a nearby establishment, started a process challenging me as a man and a father.

At that time in Massachusetts, most mothers got to have sole custody of the children.  I couldn’t stomach the thought of being a Disneyland Dad, seeing my kids for dinner once or twice during the week, and then every other weekend. 

My mind raced….are you serious?  Why?  What about the kids?  What about the house?  What about the debt?  What about….

Kids don’t get a vote in their parents’ divorce.  It is thrust on them, decided by someone else, and having an immediate impact on them.

“Here’s the ‘wife of my life’ declaring war,” went through my mind.  At a time when communication was key, communications was immediately strained and tense.

To our credit, we agreed whatever our “baggage” was, we would minimize the impact on the kids.  They would obviously have impacts, and many of them.

We agreed to approach this in a manner we thought would help the kids.  We would get a single room somewhere, and we would move in and out of the house.

Rather than immediately getting separate residences, and having the kids shuttled around or worse, we agreed the kids would stay put and we would move in and out.

So, every Sunday at 5PM the official switch took place.

Please don’t think for a minute this is a perfect solution for everyone.  It worked for us because we agreed to minimize the impact on the children.

It was hard on each of us, and certainly hard on the kids.  Yet they slept in their own bed each night, and their pets (guinea pig, Chinese water dragon, and dog) didn’t have to move either.  Schools were never an issue as the children’s residence didn’t change.  Wardrobes remained the same.

We had to try hard to not have the kids be the communications conduit for us (“tell your mom….”) 

Some norms had to be set….the house had to be reasonably clean, lawn mowed, laundry caught up…in other words we couldn’t drop all the chores on the other parent.

Was it perfect?  Absolutely not.  It challenging for each parent (whether we were in the house or not.)

It worked for us solely because we agreed to minimize the impact on the kids during a time of high impact.

Since so many people immediately move out, an alternative approach just might be useful.

From time to time I’ll share some fatherhood insights on divorce, as sadly parenting through divorce is something we all need to talk about.  Please feel free to share your experiences.


Parenting via Text

When I moved to Boston from Cleveland, I kept in regular touch with my parents.  This was the early 80’s, a timeframe the local “oldies” radio station now considers in their wheelhouse.There’s little need to text when you’re together

As I would drive home from Boston, I would call to check in on the parents.  Often, I would be bored on the call listening to mom describe what color the neighbor across the street had painted their front door.   Sorry mom, I really wasn’t concerned with the color of the door.

Fast forward 30 years, and I’m now the elder male in the family.  Staying in touch with my kids is an important part of my life.  I do silly things to try and engage them, like setting up a camera so they can watch a Tropical Storm. 

Communicating with young adults is different now than 30 years ago.

The phone is passé.  While they each have smartphones (iPhone or Android), and both carry their smartphones like they are jewelry, neither have learned how to enter a number and press the green “call” button.  In fact, my son claims the Verizon phone service is so poor in his neighborhood he can’t make/receive calls…although Verizon does offer an extender.

This generation only talks when they are in trouble.  Then the phone will ring, with an immediate loud, staccato greeting of, “Dad!  So and so has happened…..”

Otherwise, this crowd prefers texting.

Here are some samples…take note of the times:

Son: You are completely welcome to stay here until the power is back on.

(After the hurricane)   Sun 7:12PM

Dad:  Thanks, Bud.  If this goes to tomorrow night, I might.

Sun 7:12PM

Son:  Any idea when the power is coming back?

          Mon 9:52AM

Dad: Thanks for asking.  I’d guess 7:21AM (It’s back.)

Mon 9:52AM


Or this status update from Daughter:

Daughter: I did an orientation for a blind person today.  Makes u want to stop taking everything for granted.

Tues 6:45PM


Dad:  No kidding!  Be happy.

Tues 6:45PM


A couple things I’ve learned from this:


  • The children select the communications time and the medium.  Consistently, they choose text over other vehicles.

    Text is NOT my preferred communications vehicle.  I’d rather see them (first), or talk (second).  They choose text.
  •  If I don’t hear from them for a while, I’ll send them a quick message…something simple like:
Hey…how are you?
A missing person’s report has been filed on you.
$1,000,000 if you see me in the next 5 minutes.

And patiently wait for a response.  They may be in the gym, or on a call, and not immediately see the message.

  • If I find myself exchanging a long series of texts, where I believe we are arguing or “talking past each other,” I’ll insist on a phone call.  If necessary, I’ll let them know we need to talk, and disengage from the texting. 
  • You’ll need to understand a new language.  Because texts are limited to 140 characters, abbreviations are used.  Here’s a great list.
  • Texting is a big part of the next generation’s life.  So, when we actually are in person…I insist for some “electronic free” time.  This is hard, especially for me, as I’m always reaching for my BlackBerry.
  • Texting eliminates the “flowers” around the communications.  No small talk.  I try to close my communications with ILY.  And frankly expect ILY2 back.

GTG.  Hope this has you LOL. 

Now, it’s your turn.  Share what works and doesn’t work communicating with your kids.