I’m now the parent of a teenager. While that statement fills me with an expected amount of anxiety, I’m also unexpectedly hopeful. Or maybe that’s delusion. Or maybe my Starbucks is hitting just right this morning.
On the evening of my son’s 13th birthday, I was on the phone with my mom. We were reflecting about how Jon was becoming more independent, responsible, and mature – and just how much fun he is to talk to. She then added, “I haven’t seen him go through any angsty, isolated stage yet. And I don’t think he will.”
I quickly knocked on wood and jokingly scolded her for jinxing the next seven years. Yet in truth it was an encouraging observation from an expert in the field, having raised four boys.
So while I’m still in the throes of denial optimism, I thought I’d jot down 13 parenting lessons I’ve learned… to commemorate making it this far.
Shit’s getting real, y’all. Why does seventh grade seem significantly more ominous than previous grades? Perhaps because it’s the year kids become teenagers. Maybe because it’s when puberty kicks into high gear. Or it could just be that the word “SEVENTH” seems so much longer than “SIXTH” — I mean, it’s a whole ‘nother syllable!
I sing with the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington DC, and for our latest concert we’re performing the east coast premiere of Unbreakable, a musical chronicles LGBTQ history in the United States. It covers everything from the origin of the word “gay” to the Stonewall riots to the AIDS crisis and beyond. During rehearsals, chorus members have given presentations on the topics covered in the songs to educate and give context.
I volunteered to talk about Dr. Charles Socarides, who we sing about in ”Happy Homosexual.” Socarides was a psychiatrist from the 1970s, famous for saying “There is no such thing as a happy homosexual.” He espoused much of the harmful theories still used today in conversion therapy. Socarides believed that homosexuality was a neurotic adaptation in men caused by absent fathers and overly doting mothers. He also claimed to have helped over one third of his patients become heterosexual.
Socarides died in 2005, survived by four children from his four marriages. In a beautiful bit of irony, his oldest son, Richard, is openly gay, and served as senior advisor on gay and lesbian issues for the Clinton administration.
Unfortunately, Socarides’ legacy of harm lives on, as conversion therapy continues to deceive, traumatize, and kill generations of queer people.
This past year marked the ten year anniversary of a couple of personal milestones: becoming a father and the birth of this blog. To commemorate a decade as both Daddy and Designer Daddy, I’m sharing a series of Top 10 lists. Each post will feature the most amazing/fun/memorable things/experiences/whatevers from the last ten years.
You may have noticed that I don’t write about my son as much lately. Once my kid (and perhaps more importantly, his friends) became old enough to read and surf the internet, privacy was more of an issue. It was cute sharing about my son’s potty training when he was a toddler. Not so much now that he’s a tween.
Nowadays my more personal writing falls mainly into two categories: sharing my vast (ha!) dad knowledge and reminiscing about the past. For the latter, I’ve enjoyed documenting many of my fatherhood faves from the last decade. For this list, I rummaged through the basement and have collected my favorite parenting keepsakes.
WHAT’S WORTH SAVING?
I’ve never understood the tradition of parents keeping their kid’s baby teeth (though I’m sure we have a few rattling around in a box somewhere). The same goes for locks of hair, newborn footprints, plaster hand molds. Those things don’t evoke memories for me; they’re just biological snapshots…and a little bit creepy.
The items I’ve chosen here tell a story, elicit a multitude of emotions, and remind me of how much I’ve loved being a dad. I should do this more often!
The end is in sight! We’ve nearly made it out the other side of the pandemic. Yet I sometimes miss those early months of quarantine where the focus was pure survival. Spirits were low, but so were expectations. Teachers and parents were more lenient as we all navigated unknown, unpredictable waters. Now that things are slowly getting back to normal, the pressure to be a Parent MVP is creeping back in. The urge to compare gets stronger every day, as does my old pal, anxiety.
As is often the case in parenting, my son taught me a lesson about comparison, expectations, and what kind of dad I should strive to be: Most Improved.
Here we are, back-to-school, and already almost two months into sixth grade! My son is full-time in person (masked) at his new middle school, making new friends, learning new things, showing signs of growth and maturity. There were moments during the last year and a half when it seemed like we’d never get here.
If you’re like me, you spent a lot of time and energy worrying about this new school year, given the 18 months prior we all had to endure. And while I’m thrilled (so far/knock on wood/fingers crossed) with how things are going, I want to make sure I’m as prepared as I can be for any challenges that come along. Because one thing every parent can be sure of is that there will be challenges.
I recently attended a webinar hosted by Responsibility.org that addressed some of the concerns many parents and caregivers are facing. Here are just a few of the questions (and answers) that spoke to me most.
This was a day of many firsts. First day of sixth grade. First day of middle school. First day in a new school — with an entirely new set of classmates. And it was my son’s first day of full-time, in-person school since the middle of fourth grade. Fingers crossed it stays full-time. #GetVaccinated #ScienceIsReal #FUdelta
April is Alcohol Responsibility Month. And as a parent, making our children aware of alcohol and responsible drinking should happen early, appropriately and repeatedly.
But first let me drop a bit of awareness on you…
In 1991, 80% of American teens had consumed alcohol at least once. By 2020, that number had dropped to 44%. Some credit this decrease, in part, to an increase in parents talking to their children openly and honestly about alcohol.
This past year I’ve had the pleasure of working with Responsibility.org, whose mission is to facilitate these lifelong conversations between parents and kids. I’ve learned a ton from my interactions with the organization and strive to impart some of that knowledge to my readers… and of course, to my son.
So, in honor of Alcohol Responsibility Month, I thought I’d do just that — have a conversation with my 11-year-old about alcohol.
As I was coming up with questions, I realized I hadn’t had much in the way of father-son chats about alcohol. I knew he’d seen me and his Papa drink — and probably more often during quarantine. But what did he really know? What had he actually observed? How worried should I be?
Below is our enlightening (and entertaining) discussion.
Alright… this is where I’m supposed to impart some wisdom. To share valuable life lessons I’ve learned during this never, ever ending pandemic. To give you pointers on ways to talk to your kids about responsibility and resilience. Unfortunately, I got nothin’.
Luckily, I know someone chock full of wisdom and pointers. I recently sat in on a chat hosted by Responsibility.org, featuring parent coach, Washington Post columnist, author and hilarious human, Meghan Leahy. To give you an idea of why I enjoyed Meghan’s talk so much, I’ll be sharing my favorite quotes from the conversation throughout this post. First up, my absolute favorite:
“Everyone is a hot, hot mess.”
If you can’t relate to that even a little bit, you’re in a state of deep, blissful denial.
Lest you think I and my family have all our shit together, guess again. In between the cute IG pics and the occasional informative blog posts, our life is a series of bumps, mishaps and near catastrophes. Several times a week, I apologize for yelling at my kid. School is a source of constant stress; ADHD is a sonofabitch and not at ALL suited to distance learning. Screen time is through the roof. We almost never eat dinner together. We order takeout multiple times a week — often from more than one restaurant. My hermit-like husband works ’round the clock. My projects have slowed to a crawl, leaving me frustrated and hopeless at times. I’ve fed my insecurities by keeping Amazon in business, perfecting my margarita, and with much too much actual food.
So… FIFTH GRADE. Even under normal circumstances, that phrase brings a mixture of shock, awe, gratefulness and stress. So let’s throw in a global pandemic and some at-home, online learning for added effect, shall we?
Needless to say, the last few months of fourth grade were not what we (or anyone else) had planned. I’m sure there are some kids out there who thrive at distance learning. My child is not one of them. His ADHD, combined with a penchant for non-stop, action-packed video games, made for some very frustrating attempts at on-screen classes. We made it out the other side alive, which I consider a win.
Also needless to say, Jon and I both enjoyed the hell out of our class-less summer. But now here we are again — the excitement of a new school year mixed with the stressful virtuality of it all.