& a lesson in manhood: for goodness sake

Lessons in Manhood

Lesson 10: Optimism

Squatch, you’re starting to learn that the world isn’t always amazing. The world seems to be coming to an end about five times a day, it seems—when your teething pains start up, when you’re not being fed rightthisminute, when your diaper’s just a little too wet. I don’t have to explain to you that life is hard.

The past few weeks have been full of reminders for your mom and me, too. A few weeks ago, not too many miles from where we live right now, a football player shot his girlfriend and then himself, leaving their (younger-than-you) baby without a mom and dad. Last week, some lunatic shot up a mall in Oregon. Just a few days ago, another one shot up a school in Connecticut, killing children and teachers and causing your mom and I to shed more tears over people we don’t even know than we probably ever have before. Last night, as the president was talking about how we should be saddened and outraged by what happened at that school, two police officers were shot outside a grocery store in Topeka, where your mom and I went to college and spent good chunks of our lives. A mom and her two young kids saw it happen from their own car.

I know that you’re aware of none of this stuff today, and none of it is nearly as terrifyingly horrific as bones literally forcing their way out of your skin right this minute. And I wish like hell I could keep it that way for you.

Wish in one hand, shit in the other—right?

You can’t tell, but these things—particularly the school shooting in Connecticut—are weighing pretty heavily on your mom and me, as well as seemingly half the internet. You’ll find that these things have a tendency to beat you down*. There have been moments over the last few days where we’ve questioned things. Schools are supposed to be a safe place. We’ve asked (like probably half the parents in America did) if we should screw it all and homeschool you. I’ve considered scouting out jobs in another country where shit like this doesn’t happen nearly as often. We’ve asked if we should board up the windows, order all our groceries off Amazon and live the hermit’s existence.

*Or you won’t. If we’re lucky, you won’t.

Of course we won’t, though. It’s not how we live. It’s not how you’re going to be raised. As much as bad stuff happens, I still hold firm to my belief that people are good. That the world is good. That good is the predominant, fundamental, controlling thing that holds everything together.

I have to believe that. I wouldn’t get out of bed without that.

There are so many wonderful things in the world that it would be a terrible thing to overlook them. People help each other out through national disasters. Our baseball team won the World Series this year. Paul McCartney sang with Nirvana. Cheez-Its. Kansas City barbecue. The first three Indiana Jones movies. Thanksgiving and Christmas. Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners. (Imaginary) Secret Santa gifts from strangers. Chocolate. Shoddy traveling carnival rides. Ooh, and funnel cakes. This:

puppykitty

In fact, right now you’re just a pudgy little ball of goodness yourself. This only scratches the surface of all the goodness in the world, and you’ll get to spend the rest of your life discovering everything that is good.

The opposite of good isn’t evil, Squatch. I don’t think evil exists. Evil is only a concept for Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, and the Yankees. The opposite of good is pessimism, greed, fear. It’s when these things are predominant that bad things happen.

We’re not going to live that way. You’re going to go to school and have friends. You’re going to meet new people and try new things. You’re going to travel to different places. We’re not going to shutter the doors or buy a gun or look sideways at every person we pass on the street.

I choose to see the good. I hope you choose to see the good.

When bad things happen, we can’t ignore them. That would be silly and immature. We have to remember them. We have to grieve. And we have to work to ensure they won’t happen again. We have to make them good.

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& a lesson in manhood: redemption road

Lessons in Manhood

Lesson 9: Obligations and Forgiveness

Squatch, you might have noticed that Daddy likes baseball. Just a little. You like it at this point in your life, too, but in reality you crack up at any moving shape. You’re pretty easy to entertain. Don’t ever change.

We’re Giants fans in this house, and we’re even winning Mommy over, but you knew that. Otherwise that Brian Wilson doll would just be kinda creepy. Last night was Game 1 of the World Series. You’re almost 4 months old, and you already get to experience your first Giants World Series*. Too bad you won’t remember it.

*Don’t get used to this. It doesn’t happen every year. Just every other year, apparently.

Let me tell you about the pitcher who started for the Giants last night. His name is Barry Zito, but I like to call him the Albatross*. This is because he signed the biggest contract in baseball (at the time) before the 2007 season and immediately began to make every Giants fan regret it. It’s not stretching to say he stunk. He’s been the highest paid player on the team every year since, and most of those years, he’s been pretty much the worst player. Last time the Giants were in the Series, they didn’t even put him on the roster.

*This is just Daddy getting all lit nerdy on you.

This year, he’s done better. Not “You Were Worth Every Bit of the $99 Million They Paid You” better, but he provided a solid outing for the Giants whenever he took the ball. They even won 12 straight games when he started heading into the playoffs. He was still Barry Zito, but he was looking a little more like the guy the Giants decided to give that ridiculous payday to.

Still, we Giants fans didn’t really trust him (or like him much) heading into the playoffs. You see, Squatch, when you don’t follow through on your obligations, on what people expect from you, you tend to lose people’s trust. They stop liking you. And in the case of Barry Zito, when the Giants decided to pay him $16 million a year, fans expected him to be worth at least most of that. Only he wasn’t living up to those expectations, and the fans generally wrote him off as a loss.

Till last week. For some reason, in Game 5 of the NLCS, with the Giants down three games to one, they decided to start Barry Zito—he guy who has tortured Giants fans for six long seasons with sub-par performances and general suckiness. They sent him out to take the mound, and Giants fans around the world could be heard muttering, “Well, it was a good season anyway.”

But he came through. Barry. Zito. BARRY ZITO. He shut down one of the best offenses in the National League. He pitched like he was the Giants’ ace, like he’s been doing this all along. He stood on the mound, he threw the ball, and he somehow managed to handle every expectation that Giants fans had when he signed that contract in 2007.

He was a hero.

Now, Squatch, you’re probably wondering about that. Can one game—one good game—cause an entire fan base to suddenly say, “All is forgiven”?

Yep.

You bet your ass. It was a performance that shifted the momentum of the series, ignited one of the greatest comebacks in Giants history, and got them to the first World Series of your (as-of-yet) brief lifetime. He earned that $99 million.

Then he went out last night and did it again in Game 1 of the Series. He again shut down one of the best offenses in all of baseball. He outpitched the reigning (and likely repeating) Cy Young winner. He had fans chanting his name. He got a standing ovation as he exited the game. And the big difference was that people thought he could do it this time. We trusted him. We believed in him.

Forgiveness is a big part of being a Man, Squatch. Forgiving someone for six years of disappointment after he shows up when he’s needed most—that’s expected. That’s earned.

The lesson here is that you need to live up to your obligations. You do what you said you’d do, what others expect you to do. And if you don’t—if the world seems to turn on you when you fail to meet those expectations—you have to earn that trust back. Sometimes that takes time. Sometimes it never happens. And sometimes it just takes one great day.

& a lesson in manhood: the manual

Lessons in Manhood

Lesson 8: Instructions

Squatch, if television and movies have taught you anything about men, it’s that we don’t read the instructions and we don’t ask for directions.

Movies and TV are bullshit. If I’ve taught you anything, it’s that.

Well, except the directions thing. I still have trouble with stopping to ask for directions, but that has less to do with manhood and more to do with being afraid of the guy in the gas station with the lazy eye.

Because, you know, low-flying aircraft.

One of the things a Man needs to know, however, is that the instructions are important. They’re there for a reason. Some things in life don’t need them, but not everything in life is completely intuitive. Otherwise cavemen would’ve invented space travel. For most things, you actually need to read the damn directions.

Why am I telling you this, Squatch? It seems pretty obvious, doesn’t it? Well, as you know, your dad’s a teacher. And it’s that time of the semester where students start freaking out about their grades. Why they start worrying in the last week of class, when there’s nothing they can do about it, instead of at the beginning of the semester, when they have a chance to change it, I have no idea. But they do.

And I send them back to read the directions—the syllabus. I point to the part where it says I don’t take late work. I point to the other part where it says I don’t do extra credit (mostly because it’s more work for me just so they can bring their grade up). Then I point to the part where it says attending class making sure they get their work in on time is their responsibility.

Then they look at me like I’m a terrible person. It’s the same look they gave their futon when they moved into the dorm and had a few extra parts left over. In both cases, it’s because they didn’t read the instructions.

Maybe they need to learn their lessons the hard way. I know I once did. And now I read the instructions. I even got my manual for you.

Squatch, a Man knows when to read the instructions. Sometimes, he doesn’t need to. When there’s a sign next to the silver part on the toilet that says “Push Too Flush” (sic), you probably don’t need to read it.

Otherwise, for the love of Cheez-Its, read the damn directions.

& a lesson in manhood: the two-way street

Lessons in Manhood

Lesson 7: Respect

Squatch, if your mother and I have done any good between when you were born and when you’re able to read this, then you’ve already learned about respect. But just in case I’ve forgotten anything or something slipped through, let’s review, shall we?

One of the things I’ve noticed being here in Oklahoma is that a lot of the kids around here are taught to be respectful while growing up. Kind of.

Plenty of my students were taught what they consider to be respect, but not necessarily what I consider to be respect. A lot of them call me sir, answer questions “Yes sir” and “No sir,” and sir the heck out of everything in general. But some of these students are the same ones who I catch texting on their phones while we’re in the middle of talking about stuff in class.

See Squatch, sir and ma’am are fine. But learning to call people sir and ma’am isn’t respect. Those words aren’t signs of respect—they’re signs of subordination. You call someone “sir” because you fall below him on the organizational chart, not because you respect him. Plenty of soldiers call their superior sir, but I know from talking to my share of soldiers that a good chunk of them think he’s a Grade A asshat.

In short, what you say doesn’t mean shit. It’s your actions that show respect, Squatch—not your words.

Think about it for a second. Chances are, the people you might have the most respect for are probably your closest friends. Do you call many of them sir or ma’am? If you do, we’ve got another talk to have in private, because you’re just weird. But the chances are that you don’t, but the way you show them respect is in the way you act around them.

Listening is a sign of respect. When someone’s talking, you show them respect by listening to what they’re saying. You’re not playing on your phone or talking to someone else or thinking about what you’re going to say next. You’re letting their words enter your headspace through your earholes while your mouthhole isn’t moving. That’s respectful.

Honesty is also a sign of respect. You don’t lie to people you respect. Save that for the douches and assholes in your life. Lie to them. Get it all out. Be honest with the people you respect.

Helping out is respect. If someone asks you to do something, it’s the respectful thing to do to help them out if you can. Giving assistance to people you don’t even know through donating time or money is respectful, too. If you respect someone, then you try to make their lives a little easier by putting yourself aside for a little bit*.

*Be careful on that, though. See the last Lesson on Manhood.

Politeness is a part of respect, too, but it’s not a substitute. Sir and ma’am are polite, just like please and thank you, but it doesn’t mean you respect anyone. Respect is what you do.

And while we’re on it, Squatch, I want to say that respect is a two-way street. You might want to be respected—who doesn’t?—but you have to give respect to earn it. It’s generally a good idea to show respect to your elders and your superiors—bosses, teachers, *ahem* parents—but that also should go both ways.

You show respect to the people who earn it. Being alive longer than me doesn’t automatically mean people earn my respect. Being put in charge of me doesn’t mean you deserve respect. If you want respect, you have to give it. So Squatch, if your boss one day is disrespectful, find another job. If your teacher is disrespectful, well, come talk to me and your mom and we’ll try to get it straightened out. But if we don’t, I can’t see that it’s unreasonable for you to raise a little hell every once in a while. Don’t show those peckerhead the respect they don’t deserve.

All that being said, Men default to showing respect. When you first meet someone, be respectful. Be polite, but also be respectful. When they lose their right to respect by treating you like shit, then you can drop the show, but until that point, a Man shows people respect, because a Man wants to be respected. And a Man knows that in order to get respect, you have to show it.

One last note before we go, Squatch. Your mom and I deserve respect. We give you food, clothing, shelter, and every other damn thing you could need. Consider it rent. You don’t want to know what happens if you don’t pay your rent.

& a lesson in manhood: over-reaching

Lessons in Manhood

Lesson 6: Responsibility

Squatch, I haven’t done one of these in a while. It’s not because I’m done with the lessons, but for another reason entirely that I’m going to discuss. This definitely has a chance to fall into “Do As I Say, Not As I Do” territory.

One of the things I’ll be teaching you your whole life is responsibility. It’s one of those lessons that you’re never done teaching, and for some people, it just takes a while to sink in. So you’ll learn—from me and from others—all kinds of things about responsibility. That responsibility means a Man takes the blame for his poor actions and shares the credit for his accomplishments. That responsibility means a Man takes care of the consequences, good and bad, of his actions. That responsibility means a Man understands what is required of him in life and steps up to fulfill those obligations. That responsibility means when a Man gives his word, he follows through on that promise and doesn’t renege.

And it’s this last one that I want to talk to you about today, Squatch, because there’s an underrepresented addendum to that part which most people don’t seem to address. A Man needs to follow through on his commitments, of course, but a side note to this is that a Man also needs to understand his limitations and not take on more commitments than he can follow through with. This, sadly, is where your dad is more man than Man, Squatch.

This area has always been one area where I’ve struggled quite a bit. And you’ll probably be surprised to learn it’s because your dad has trouble saying “No” to other people. I know, it seems like that’s the only word I know how to say around you sometimes, but when other people ask me for favors, or to help out with something I know how to do, or when something enjoyable comes along, I have a hard time telling people that I can’t do it. I just add it to my list of things to do and pack my schedule tighter.

There’s a few problems with this, Squatch. First, you end up placing an unfair burden on yourself when you overcommit. You make it harder for you to prioritize your schedule and you end up feeling overwhelmed until whatever commitment you made is completed. Or until you add more commitments. Your stress level gets ratcheted up and you’re not a pleasant person to be around. Your family definitely won’t appreciate it. And, of course, when I say “you,” I mean “I.”

Second, everything you’ve committed to starts to suffer. You’re not doing anyone a service by only being able to give half your attention or half your effort to things because your focus is split in so many different directions. Nothing ends up going as well as it could, and the people you committed to help out might have been better off without you in the first place.

Third, you squeeze out all the “you” time. In saying you’ll help out this person and that person and that person with their things, you’re making it so your stuff has to take a back seat. You don’t get to spend as much time preparing for your classes or grading papers. You don’t get to update your blog. You don’t get to write. You don’t get to spend quality time with your family. That’s definitely no good for you.

A Man knows when to say “No” in order to not overcommit himself. It’s such a simple word, but it’s something your dad is working on, Squatch. That’s why he says it so much to you. It’s practice.

& a lesson in manhood: we’re past this already

I got into doing this bloggy thing for a couple reasons, as I mentioned in my first post. Chief among them was to potentially help the guys who came behind me and had hit the my-wife-is-pregnant-so-what’s-my-job-in-all-this point. Mostly because a lot of the stuff I’d been told had been trite and stupid. More on this in a bit.

Second, I wanted to have the opportunity to interact with people who had gone through, or were currently going through, the same stuff. I thought it would be cool to talk to other dads and get some real tips so I don’t screw Squatch up too bad. What I’ve found, however, is that while the dad blogs aren’t lacking in quality (there’s a list of some good ones on the right side there), the mommy blogs definitely get the W when it comes to quantity. Not even close. Some of my favorites are over to the side there, as well.

One of the coolest moms-in-process on the internet is Emily over at The Waiting. I delve into the bloggy-verse and it delivers my Sister from Another Mister. (Go ahead and read her site. I’ll be here when you get back.) And a recent post of hers delivered this gem from a free magazine the doctor gave her:

Click the picture to read the table and lose a few IQ points.

My first thought was that Jonathan Whitbourne a) never had a kid, or b) if he has, then he’s a character from a sitcom (you know—the goofy-caveman-with-a-hot-wife type). Whitbourne apparently thinks we’re all man-children with a laugh track, which is exactly why I took to the internet to find other competent people capable of polysyllabic thinking in order to get better advice. And if you’ve read Emily’s post (which you have, because you wouldn’t be insulting me by reading this far without it), then you saw her say:

It makes me sad that Whitbourne is going to be able to add this gem to his CV when there are a number of legitimately funny, original pregnancy posts written by male bloggers I follow that could just as easily be formatted to fit on that last page.

Challenge accepted. Well—I’m not going to reformat a previous post. I’m just going to fix this idiot’s list. And to do that I’ll need:

Lessons in Manhood

Lesson 5: What He’s Really Thinking—For Real

Squatch, there’s no reason to buy any of that “clueless man” garbage. Yes, some people do actually live like stereotypes. But you don’t need to pay attention to them. Honestly, we’ve moved on from this. The remainder of the Manhood diaspora has a wide range of reactions to their pregnant significant others. There’s no one way to fix that idiotic and insulting list, but a general rule is that a Man actually means what he says (more on that in a later lesson). But I suppose that wouldn’t be so fun to read. The next best thing is to just insert what I—a non-caveman—would be thinking. So let’s fix Mr. Whitbourne’s worldview a little bit, shall we?

WHAT HE’S REALLY THINKING

He says: “You’re pregnant? That’s awesome!”

He means: “Not that the trying part wasn’t incredibly fun, but I’m not that young anymore and a dude’s gotta rehydrate every once in a while. That’s awesome! And how about…oh, you want McDonalds? Right now? Sure.”

He says: “Sure, if it’s a boy, we can think of naming him after your Uncle Eggbert.”

This is stupid. Nobody’s named Eggbert. And anybody who would name their kid Eggbert deserves a punch in the taint. Not because it wouldn’t make a good football player name (if Dick Butkus can turn out to be a good football player, any name can), but because kids are mean and cruel and anyone named Eggbert wouldn’t make it out of the third grade. NEXT!

He says: “I guess you’re right. A minivan is the most practical option.”

He means: “I’m confident with the size and functionality of my penis. What’s the MPG on the Honda Odyssey?”

He says: “It’s never too early to start saving for college, so let’s look into a 529 plan.”

He means: “This is kid is either going to college or getting a job after high school. It’ll be about time we got our office back.”

He says: “Yes, I’ll be in the delivery room the whole time holding your hand and looking into your beautiful eyes.”

He means: “I know you told me that if you can’t eat anything in the delivery room, then I can’t eat anything the whole time either. But if I slip away to ‘hit the little boys room,’ I’m really scarfing a hamburger. Please don’t hate me.”

He says: “It’s a girl! I can’t wait to start spoiling my little princess.”

He means: “I can’t conceive of girls as anything other than gender stereotypes, so I’m going to do everything I can to perpetuate them. I hope she grows up to be a stripper with daddy issues.”

He says: “I love our baby so much it hurts.”

He means: “I can’t speak in anything but meaningless clichés, so my feelings for this child come out in drivel that fourteen-year-old girls scribble on their bedroom mirrors.”

Now, let’s cover some that Whitbourne missed.

He says: “This little [insert baby thing] is pretty cool.”

He means: “I could totally make that. With your permission. And a new scroll saw.”

He says: “You can feel it kicking? That’s pretty awesome.”

He means: “I’m glad you’re going through this and not me, because I freak out when Chipotle gives me indigestion. I can only imagine what I’d do if the burrito started working my ribs like Tom Hanks and Robert Loggia on a floor piano.”

He says: “Look at that woman over there. Do you think she has to wear one of those ‘Oversize Load’ signs when she walks down the hallway?”

He means: “I love you.”

He says: “I started a blog about this whole pregnancy and baby thing. You should read it.”

He means: “This whole thing still almost doesn’t feel real, and I want to feel like I’m actually doing something in this process, so I’m going to make the whole internet think I’m more involved than I am. But mostly it’ll be crude jokes and making fun at your expense. You should read it.”

He says: “I can’t wait till this is over and the baby is here.”

He means: “I’m really looking forward to eating Mexican food around you again.”

He says: “You’ve gained how much weight since your last doctor’s appointment?”

He means: “Remember ten years ago when I taught you how to throw a punch? Worst mistake of my life. Not in the face, not in the face!”

He says: “This pregnancy stuff seems a lot easier than everyone makes it out to be.”

He means: “I have no clue. Oh, and this pregnancy magazine asked me to write a filler fluff piece for the back of their little ad rag. Pretty cool, huh? I’m going to go scour Hulu for sitcom reruns to get ideas while you put this crib together, okay?”