Thursday, April 30, 2015

I asked my son to work next to me and he complained





I was in the yard building garden boxes for my wife. Tristan, my 8-year-old, was helping. Or at least I wanted him to be helping. Moments earlier he was in the house playing Minecraft on his tablet, and I had to, more or less, drag him outside. It was a Sunday, and the sun had been shining all weekend. It wasn’t too hot, or too cold. It was an amazing day to be outside, and yet my son wanted to be inside, playing video games and eating cheese puffs.

Now that he was out, and handing me nails, and helping me hold boards, all he did was bitch. Each sentence had a refrain: Are we done yet?

“No,” I said. “We need to build four boxes. This is the first box.”

Long agonizing exhale.

Tristan was in a red polo shirt that he usually wore to school, and a pair of gym shorts. He’d been dressing himself for some time, and although I often make fashion suggestions, little of them take. He tends to dress in contradictions, mismatches of formal clothing with workout clothing, ultimately making him look like an engineer on the way to the gym.

“Hand me a nail,” I said. “Then hold this board in place.

He sagged his shoulders, and then sulked across the patio to the box of nails.

“You know, Dad,” he said. “You could do this yourself.”

He looked me in the eyes when he said this. His face seemed to say, “You are wasting my time.”

I thought about how much quicker I could get this done with out his “help.” I thought about how working on a project like this would go much easier if I were alone, and didn’t have to constantly drag my son along. I told myself that I was teaching him how to work with his hands. This is a rare opportunity living in the suburbs. We don’t have a farm or anything. We don’t have fences to mend, so teaching my son how to work with his hands tends to manifest itself in projects like the one we were working on.

And I suppose I was teaching him how to work with his hands. But honestly, the reason I had him out there helping me, the reason I wanted him at my side when I built those boxes was because I wanted to have the father-son interactions that I never got with my own father.

My dad left when I was 9 and died when I was 19 from drug addiction. I never got to work on many projects with him. And thinking back, if he did want me to work on a project with him, something similar to building garden boxes, I would have done just what Tristan was doing. I would’ve bitched. I would have asked to go inside and watch The Price is Right or Home Improvement. But now that I am older, I hear friends talk about moments like the one Tristan and I were having. About how their fathers made them help with this project or that project, and although they hated it, they really enjoyed working with their fathers. I want to give that to my son. But I also want it for myself. I want to know what it feels like to work as a father and a son, even if I am now older and on the other end of the equation. And when I think about it in those terms, I feel like I’m reaching for something that is lost. I feel like I’m trying to get back something that I never could possibly get back, but will try for it all the same. I will never have the opportunity to work next to my father. But working next to my son seems close enough.

As we worked, I wanted to tell my son all of this. I wanted him to know what working with him means to me. I wanted to explain to him that he was helping me get something back that I long ago lost. But I wasn’t sure how to say it, and I don’t know if he is old enough to get it, so I just kept working with him, hoping that somehow, in some way, this would become enjoyable for him and he’d be willing to stay without me forcing him.

“I’m going to pound this nail in half way,” I said. “Then I want you to pound it in the rest of the way.”

Tristan raised his eyebrows.

“You want me to use the hammer?” he said.

“Yup. Just don’t bend the nail,” I said.

He smiled. Then he went on about something from Minecraft. Some hammer or pick ax or something that this opportunity reminded him of.

“Yeah,” I said. “It’s just like that. Just like Minecraft.”

He took the hammer with both hands, and began beating the nail in short, fast, aggressive strikes. He smiled, having fun with it, and although he wasn’t doing much outside of chipping up the wood, he was having a good time. Then he got frustrated because the nail wasn’t moving, so I showed him how to swing a hammer. I told him how to make sure to let the hammer do most of the work. Thinking back, I’m not sure where I learned how to swing a hammer. Maybe from my older brother. Perhaps I learned it from my father, back when he was still around. I don’t know. But what I do know is that by the time Tristan got that nail in place, he was smiling with satisfaction. And so was I. And right there, we had a moment. It wasn’t hugely monumental or life changing, but it felt right. It felt like something that I will tell others years from now, I feel confident that Tristan will, too. It was the kind of moment I’d always wanted with my father, but never had. 

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Clint Edwards was blessed with a charming and spitfire wife, a video game obsessed little boy, a snarky little girl in a Cinderella play dress, and an angry baby girl. When Clint was 9-years-old his father left. With no example of fatherhood, he had to learn how to be a father and husband through trial and error. His work has been featured in Good Morning AmericaThe New York TimesThe Washington PostThe Huffington PostScary MommyThe Good Men ProjectFast Company, and elsewhere. He lives in Oregon. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.   
 

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

8 Reasons parents are always late




My oldest sister was the first to have children. She is seven years older than me, and I recall bitching a lot about how she was always late. I couldn’t understand what was so hard about getting her shit rounded up and getting somewhere on time. It wasn’t until I had children of my own (I have three of them ranging from 11 months to 8 years) that I started to realize leaving the house with children is a chaotic mix of lost items, poopy butts, sudden hunger, loss of concentration, and fits of rage. If you are ever wondering why I’m always late, here are a few examples of what I’m dealing with.

Lost shoes: I suspect my kids hide one shoe from a pair each night because they hate me. Every time we leave the house, I have to spend 5 to 10 minutes searching for a lost shoe. And I know that there is some reader out there right now ready to solve my problem. “Just have the kids put the shoes back where they belong each time.” And to you I say, “Kiss my ass.” Most of the time, I get home with kids, I’m so irritated from being in a van with three screaming wanting little turds that the last thing I want to do is worry about their shoes. And yet, the second I can’t find their shoes, I will flip and tell them to put their shoes back where they belong. The whole thing is a twisted cycle that makes daddy want to live in the woods.

Lost comfort item: For a long time my oldest wouldn’t leave the house without his blanket: a tattered stained little rag of a thing with blue dinosaurs on it. Whenever we needed to leave, suddenly the blanket would come up missing, and he’d turn into a boogery bitching mess until we spent 10 minutes looking for it.

Thirst: Yesterday I got all three kids ready to go to the store. The baby was buckled in her car seat, my oldest was buckled in the back seat, and suddenly my five year old was dying of thirst. I told her that she had water in the van, but she didn’t want that water. She wanted water from her special Princess cup. So I gave it to her, and then she slowly sipped for several minutes while staring at me, her eyes glossy and cold.

Hunger: My kids are crafty. I feed them before we go somewhere, but they don’t eat it. They just pick at it. They tell me it is gross, or they don’t feel hungry. Then, right before we need to leave, suddenly the food looks good, and they want to eat it. So I offer to take the food with us, but then it turns out that it doesn’t taste as good in the van. Or they insist on my giving them something else (usually mac and cheese or fish sticks). This is usually when daddy ends up dragging a kicking and screaming child into the van.

Poopy butt: There is something about getting ready to go that triggers my 11-month-old’s bowels.

Sudden need to pee: I will fight with my son for 10 minutes to go to the bathroom before we get in the van. He will insist that he doesn’t need to go, but the second I get everyone loaded and turn over the motor, his bladder fills and he has to spend several minutes taking a wiz and then dicking around with the bathroom sink.

Argument over seat placement: We gave the kids assigned seats in the van hoping that it would keep them from arguing over who was in whose seat. But it didn’t work. Now it’s all about arguing over who is in the cool seat. We move the assignments to accommodate the cool seat, which is hard to pin down because the cool seat seems to change every time we get in the van. This is why daddy cries.

Sudden illness: This really depends on where we are going. If it’s a trip to the store, everyone feels fine. If we are heading to school or church, suddenly a wave of tummy aches washes over the house.

Screen distraction: Telling my kids to get ready when they are looking at a screen is about as effective as telling a turtle to walk faster. Take the screens away so they can focus on getting ready, and suddenly I’m an asshole and everyone sprawls out on the floor and cries.

What are some of the reasons you are late?

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Clint Edwards was blessed with a charming and spitfire wife, a video game obsessed little boy, a snarky little girl in a Cinderella play dress, and an angry baby girl. When Clint was 9-years-old his father left. With no example of fatherhood, he had to learn how to be a father and husband through trial and error. His work has been featured in Good Morning America, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, The Good Men Project, Fast Company, and elsewhere. He lives in Oregon. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.   
 

Friday, April 24, 2015

This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things: an update




Hey, readers!

Last October I ran a successful Kickstarter campaign to publish the funniest collection of essays on parenting and marriage ever produced titled, “This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things.”

Well… I just got that sucker back from the editor. I am going to have to spend the next couple weeks going through the edits and making the suggested changes. This means I will not be posting as often as usual for a little while (probably only once or twice a week). I hope you understand. And I hope you won’t forget about me.

On a side note, this project is taking MUCH longer than I anticipated. I’d just like to say to those who so kindly backed my project… I love you! Thank you for your patience. This is the first time I’ve ever self published a book, and it has been a real learning experience.

Best,

Clint

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Clint Edwards was blessed with a charming and spitfire wife, a video game obsessed little boy, a snarky little girl in a Cinderella play dress, and an angry baby girl. When Clint was 9-years-old his father left. With no example of fatherhood, he had to learn how to be a father and husband through trial and error. His work has been featured in Good Morning America, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, The Good Men Project, Fast Company, and elsewhere. He lives in Oregon. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.   
 

Thursday, April 23, 2015

You’ve got to be pretty old. You’ve got kids




I was on a ski lift with a group of college students when one asked me if I had sex in high school. It was a bold question, but it wasn’t shocking. I knew these students really well. I was 32, a father of three, and working as a college academic counselor for under represented students.  This was a school trip. The three boys sitting next to me were between 18 and 19-years-old. Two were Latino, and one was white. All from low income families. This was their first time ever at a ski resort.

We were chatting about why I didn’t ever learn how to ski, and I told them, “I learned to snowboard in high school. It just seemed sexier. I suppose my goal was to get laid.”

“Did it work?” the white kid asked.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“Did you get laid in high school?”

“Well… Yeah” I said. “But I don’t know if that was a direct result of snowboarding.”

I don’t think any of them heard the last half of my sentence because they were all laughing so hard. Long snorty giggles that reminded me of Beavis & Butt-head sitting on a sofa talking about sex.

I didn’t know just what to make of all this laughter. I didn’t know if this was a result of them never having sex, or if it was because me, their college counselor, just admitted to having sex. Perhaps they assumed that I didn’t have sex. That I never had. Or perhaps it was something they’d rather not think about. But in the moment, I assumed it was because they saw me as old. This was not the only sign of my students seeing me as old. When getting students signed up to go on the ski trip (we only had funding for about 15) I mentioned that I was going, and nearly all of them gave me a confused, perplexed look, the kind of scrunched up face one might make when seeing a UFO, and said, “You snowboard?” One even accused me of lying, as though snowboarding was too cool, or too hip, or too young for someone like me to do. An old, white, nerdy, academic type, with thick-framed glasses and collared shirts. At one point, in all this, I made the mistake of asking one student how old she thought I was, and she said, “You’ve got to be pretty old. You’ve got kids.”

As invalid as this argument was (people in high school have kids) it still gave me pause. The problem is I don’t feel that old, but there is something about working with college students that makes me realize that time is moving forward.

I looked at the students still laughing on the lift. “Really?” I said. “I don’t get why this is so funny?”

One of them put up his hand and said, “No. No. It’s not. It’s just…” then they all looked at each other and laughed again.  And after a moment they started talking about some fat friend of theirs who gets laid all the time, and how strange that was, and I wondered how these two conversations were correlated.

I looked at these students on the lift for some time, and I started to see myself through their eyes. I was, indeed, this representation of age and stability. Some of these students I’d been meeting with every two weeks for more than a year. I was a man they came to for answers. I was educated, and settled, and had a few wrinkles and a little grey in my beard. I thought about when I was their age, and how I might have seen myself, and not surprisingly, I’d have had a difficult time understanding that this person with trim cut hair ever once had long hair, and smoked pot, and had sex, and all that other adolescent crap that most kids do. I looked at them, and realized that regardless of how young I felt, how cool I still thought I was, I was now, in the eyes of these young men, an old man with responsibilities and income and education.

The lift ride seemed forever long, nearly as long as the journey between my youth and the now. Not that I hadn’t thought about all this before, but it seemed more apparent as they laughed, and it gave me pause. I’ve heard people in their 40s and 50s tell me that I’m still young, and I’ve seen a lot of people in their teens and 20’s imply that I’m getting old, and in so many ways I’m trying to figure out what this all means. In the grand scheme of life and progression, the 30s are a strange middle ground, somewhere close to the top of the hill, but just low enough that I can’t see the other side. Neal Young said it’s “When you're old enough to repay. But young enough to sell.” I never really understood that line until this year. I knew that my back would hurt after this snowboarding trip, but I also knew that I could out board any of the students that came along, and thinking about that made the pain worth it.  How long would that last?

We reached the end of the lift, and when we all got off, and all three students fell, while I stayed up. I put my hand out, and helped one of them up. He looked frustrated, and I said, “Don’t worry. You’ll figure it out. Takes time.”

He looked at me for a while, smiled, and said, “Yeah… you’re right,“ in a tone that seemed confident and cool and believing. As old as I assumed he saw me, it seemed that he knew I understood. That what I told him was believable because I’d been there. Perhaps that’s where I am. Still young enough to understand these student’s struggles, young enough to be believable, but old enough to know about priorities and sacrifice and make recommendations. 

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Clint Edwards was blessed with a charming and spitfire wife, a video game obsessed little boy, a snarky little girl in a Cinderella play dress, and an angry baby girl. When Clint was 9-years-old his father left. With no example of fatherhood, he had to learn how to be a father and husband through trial and error. His work has been featured in Good Morning America, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, The Good Men Project, Fast Company, and elsewhere. He lives in Oregon. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.   



Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Explaining to my mother why I do the laundry

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I was grocery shopping with my mother and my two daughters. Mom was in town for my son’s birthday and to meet my 11-month-old, her new granddaughter. I left home (Utah) almost six years earlier, and this was the second time she’d visited me. This is not to say that I hadn’t visited her, it was just strange to be out with her, just the two of us. We don’t see each other all that often, and usually our time together is surrounded by other adults. For the two of us to be shopping together was unusual.

We started in the produce section. In the top seat of the cart was Aspen, the baby, and in the basket was Norah, my 5-year-old. My mother was in her early 60s with short bleached blond hair. She was a little stout with age, an inch shorter than me (5’ 6”). My wife was at home with my son, who was sick.

We were looking for sweet potatoes when Mom said, “Do you usually do the shopping?”

I shrugged. “Mel and I split it up depending on who’s available,” I said.

“I noticed that you do the laundry, too,” She said.

“Every week,” I said.

She opened her eyes slightly, a little shocked, and I said, “I don’t see why this is a big deal. I just pitch in. It's a partnership.”

She mentioned that my older brother, Ryan did some of the same things, and that she didn’t know where we got it from. She started talking about my father, and how he never went to the store, or did the laundry, or any of those things. My father was a man influenced by the 50s, I suppose. Or so I’ve gathered. Honestly, I didn’t know him all that well. He left when I was 9, and died from drug addiction when I was 19. The funny thing is, for the longest time, my mother didn’t like talking about him. He, in every shape of the phrase, left her high and dry. He left her with debt. He didn’t pay child support. He just moved on. He’s been dead for over 10 years now, and it’s only been in the past three or four years that my mother has started to talk casually about him. In fact, this was one of only a few times that I’ve heard her bring him up without me prompting it.

“I didn’t know that,” I said. “In fact, I never really thought about it. Dad wasn’t around, so I suppose I didn’t have the opertunity to pick up his bad habits.”

We were looking for taco shells now. Mom was looking at the box of shells, making sure that they weren’t expired, something I’d never done, and she insisted that I needed to start doing.

“Mel does a lot of the things that I probbaly should be doing as a man,” I said. “She manages the budget. I can’t do that. I’m horrible with numbers. She also did most of the leg work when we bought a house, figuring out how to get a mortgage, that sort of thing.” And as I spoke, I thought about my fear of becoming my father. When Mel and I were first married, I was really scared that because my only example of a father wasn’t a very good one, that I wouldn’t have any option but to follow in his footsteps. But as I spoke with my mother about how my father was so rigid with gender rolls, and how Mel and I seem to have fallen into a more liquid, egalitarian, relationship, I started to realize that not having an example has made me very open to focusing on what works best, rather than what is expected.

And as Mom and I walked through the store, we chatted about my kids. We spoke of my wife. She checked expiration dates and commented on how I should be checking if the box was open, or if the product was expired. Even though I wasn’t super interested in her tips for shopping, it felt like she was happy to teach them. We chatted about my father. We talked about his addictions, his many marriages, his death. But we kept shifting back to the things I do that my father never would’ve. It seemed like we were both interested in the topic, and once we were in the dairy aisle, near the end of my list, I asked her a question I’d asked myself from time to time, but never really known how to answer.

“Am I a better father than dad was?” I said. “I just…” I thought for a moment, trying to figure out how to verbalize something I’d grappled with for a long time, but didn’t know just who to ask about it. “I’m always afraid that I’m going to end up turning into him. I really don’t want that. I want to be there for my kids. I don’t want to walk out on them. The day he left, he really changed my life in ways that I still struggle with.”

We were in the checkout line now, placing items on the belt. Mom didn’t think about my question very long. In fact, she scoffed at it, then she said, “Yes. You are much better than your father.” But then she paused for a moment, and I could see her fighting that old bitterness towards my father that she’d struggled with for so many years. Then she said, “The first few years I was married to your dad he was a good man. He tried real hard to keep us happy. But near the end, the time you would’ve known best, he wasn’t much of a father. You turned into a good dad, Clint. You should be proud.”

All the items from the cart were on the checkout belt now. I looked at my mother, gave her a half smile, and then went to pay.

We walked out to the car together. We stopped talking about my father after that. Instead, we talked about my kids, their lives,  and how I needed to finish the laundry. 


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Clint Edwards was blessed with a charming and spitfire wife, a video game obsessed little boy, a snarky little girl in a Cinderella play dress, and an angry baby girl. When Clint was 9-years-old his father left. With no example of fatherhood, he had to learn how to be a father and husband through trial and error. His work has been featured in Good Morning America, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, The Good Men Project, Fast Company, and elsewhere. He lives in Oregon. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.