i think i’m alone now

At the end of this week, my three-and-a-half-year-old babygirl will have been a preschooler for an entire month. Her big sister’s already been a full-fledged third grader for a month. And they’re both loving it—let’s get that out of the way first. The Pumpkin’s back in her gifted program with all her friends from last year and a creative, enthusiastic teacher. And The Button—after a couple accidents early on (she did just potty-train this summer so she could finally go to preschool, after all), the time-shifting of her nap, and some on-going work on following directions that probably comes from both being the baby of the family and being at home by herself with her daddy for her entire life up to this point, her transition, really, has been a non-transition. She loves school. No crying, no clinging—every drop-off concluded with a happy wave and a quick kiss goodbye, every pick-up marked by a wide smile and “two thumbs-up for a terrific day.” It’s been so fun to hear her sing school songs and talk about school activities and “works” (it’s a Montessori school), only to be reminded that her big sister sang us those same songs and did those same things just three years ago.

But enough about my kids—this is a parenting blog, after all, so I’m supposed to write about how my kids affect me, right? Heh.

And so the big transition is this: for the first time in three-and-a-half years, I find myself alone for a good chunk of time on regular old weekdays. By myself. Sans children. And while I’d been looking forward to this all summer, seeing it as a finish line of sorts, now that I’m here, it’s sort of, I don’t know, weird.

Friends ask me, “What are you gonna do with all that time to yourself?” And I knee-jerkedly respond that between drop-off and pick-up of two kids in two places it’s really only about four hours so it’s not really that much time… But really, I react like that because I don’t know.

The first two weeks The Button was in school, I crammed in all the appointments, all the “too busy to take care of myself” things that I couldn’t do with one or two kids with me: primary care physician, dentist, optometrist, optician, therapist, barber, dog groomer, car oil change. I bought a new bike to replace the one that came with me from Rhode Island twelve years ago and has probably been rusting on the floor of my garage since The Pumpkin’s birth almost eight years ago. I forced myself to ride for an hour three days in a row, clocking about 10 miles each time. Last week, I rode four out of five weekdays, going about 14 miles round-trip each time, and I’m continuing the routine this week (I’ve designated Wednesdays my mid-week day off to rest my poor out-of-shape legs).

Last Wednesday, when I gave myself the day off from cycling and mentioned the guilt-ridden battle-in-my-head I’d had over it that morning on Facebook, my friends rallied to reassure me that it was healthier to take a break, that I needn’t feel guilty. But what they didn’t get, and what I didn’t say, was that it wasn’t about the exercise, or feeling tired or out-of-shape. Or it was, but not totally. When I said I was giving myself permission to take a day off, it was because I know too well how hard it is for me to keep up daily routines that are important, and how easy it is for me to slip. I don’t know how many times over the last three decades I’ve tried to, say, keep a daily journal, or do daily or regularly scheduled writing of any sort. All the daily little chores of domestic life, the things that have to happen because they have to happen, they give an invisible structure to my life even when I get frustrated or tired of them. But this other stuff, this stuff that is ostensibly just for me…

To put it another way: It’s been almost four weeks since I’ve had four hours a day every weekday to myself, to do whatever I needed or wanted. And today is the first day I’ve written anything longer than a Facebook status update. Just like “husband” and “parent” and “SAHD” are integral parts of my identity, so, I’ve always thought, has been “writer”—and yet it’s been easier to force myself to ride a bike in the hot sun for an hour at a time on weak knees and out-of-shape legs almost every day than to sit my ass in front of my keyboard and create something.

Earlier this summer, when a friend asked what I was going to do once the kids were in school and I sheepishly mumbled something about a novel and she asked why I wanted to write a novel, I couldn’t give her an answer. A friend whose oldest was a preschool classmate of The Pumpkin’s and whose youngest is now a classmate of The Button’s, and who recently quit a long-time teaching job to write full-time, sat me down at the end of the first week of preschool to tell me that what we do is important, and worthwhile, and that I should just do it. Another SAHD friend who is a prolific presence in the parentblogosphere busted me on Facebook when I quipped, yet again, about wanting or needing to write more, saying that I keep talking about writing, so where is it?

When we moved to Bakersfield nine years ago and my wife went to work at her new job, I curled up and licked my wounds from my painful discovery that I was not good at, or good for, the career at which I had thought I’d spend my life, and sat for too many hours in our air-conditioned house watching bad science fiction television on cable. Part of me knows that it would be too easy for me to zone out in front of Netflix Streaming or Amazon Instant Video between drop-off and pick-up, to not try because of the fear of failing, of not being good at something so wrapped up in who I think I am.

But I can’t do that. On this, my day off from the bike path, I’m sitting here on the patio of the one Panera in town with my laptop and two glasses of water, out of the house where the temptation to lie down on the sofa and take a nap might be too great [and I’ve only done that once in almost four weeks, after my DTaP booster], writing.

Will I write tomorrow? I know better than to promise that, because I know from too many personal experiences that breaking that promise will only lead me down a spiral of beating myself up over breaking the promise (not, as would be logical, picking myself up and starting over again the next day with a clean slate).

But just like every day with my girls, and every day with the love of my life, and every day on the bike path, I’m gonna try.

It won’t be perfect, but I’m gonna try.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

training days

The project of the summer: potty training The Button, who turned three-and-a-half in July. Yeah.

When her older sister The Pumpkin turned two, I went back to work outside the home for the first time since before she was born. The preschool we wanted to send her to required students to be potty trained, so we naively thought that we could do one of those “potty train your kid in a (poop- and urine-stained) weekend” things. A year of fits and starts (and a wonderful in-home daycare we miraculously found a block from our house) later, we came home from her third birthday party at her grandparents’ house, got her ready for bed, and she refused to change into a pull-up. “Ohhhh-kay,” we said, anticipating the worst. But that, basically, was that. After a year of noncommittal tries and lots and lots of sitting by her side in the bathroom waiting for nothing to happen, she basically potty-trained herself. It was like she said to herself, “Okay, I’m three now, that’s it.”

At least, that’s how I remember it. I have no idea how close a resemblance to what actually happened that version of events bears. But anyway…

So last December, with The Button’s third birthday just around the corner, I ignored the “you’re not supposed to compare your children and their development, they’re their own individual people” voice in my head and made myself freak out a bit. Well, just enough to decide to spend one day of The Pumpkin’s winter break sequestered in-doors with The Button sans diapers, but not enough to not give up after that one day of multiple laundry loads and lots of rug spot-cleaning. In the intervening months, we’d try to get her interested in the potty, try to get her to sit on it, try to read potty books and watch potty apps and use candy bribery methods, try to get her to be inspired by wearing pull-ups instead of regular diapers (yeah, right!). But it was all so half-hearted. Because really, I was scared. Scared of change, scared of what I didn’t know. Because in my head, the story of The Pumpkin’s potty training was that she did it herself. And in my head, the biggest difference (besides, of course, innate personality and all that junk, but we can’t take that into account when we’re being self-pitying) was me. I went back to work and The Pumpkin went to daycare when she turned two. The Button has had a whole year-and-a-half more at home with daddy, and I’m afraid that I baby her—and she looks younger than her age, as it is. And so, for the last six months, I’d meet the dreaded “How’s the potty training going?” with a quick shake of the head and answer “Is she going to preschool yet?” with “Well, this fall, if….”

Then The Pumpkin’s school year ended the last week of May, and there was a dead week between that and the beginning of her summer activities. The start of preschool at the end of August loomed. So I stocked the kitchen counter with paper towels, rags, pet stain/odor remover, and Clorox wipes, bought a new multipack of toddler underpants, blocked off extraneous carpeted areas of the house, and told everyone we weren’t coming out of the house for a week. The Pumpkin drew up a daily potty chart and taped it to the bathroom wall next to the toilet. And for the next several days, we didn’t leave the house. I don’t even know how many loads of laundry I did. But over that first week, The Button learned to recognize the signs of imminent having-to-go and to signal such by exclaiming “I have to go!” accompanied by running to the bathroom. [I also created a rhyme to recite with her while quickly carrying her from living room to bathroom: “Hold it in your body/ Till you’re on the potty!” Genius, I know.] Over the next few weeks, the frequency of both successful trips to the potty and accidents recorded on the post-it wall chart each day declined until finally, by July, my dear wife decided that I didn’t need to record anymore and took down the chart [flashback to when I recorded The Pumpkin’s feeding amounts and nap duration as an infant and made photocopies of the chart in the back of the breastfeeding book to keep doing it long after the pages in the back of the book ran out]. [She’s also become a little bit addicted to my iPad and the PBS Kids streaming video app, which we’ve used as her incentive. But hey, it’s educational. Heh.]

Not looking forward to cleaning up accidents in Trader Joe’s or detaching the car seat straps in order to wash the cover, I was still hedging my bets on trips outside of the house by putting her in pull-ups. Actually, I was still doing that a week ago. I know, I know, lazy daddy. But an inexplicable regression after the Fourth of July freaked me out—for a few days, it was like that first week all over again, and I’m ashamed to say that The Button picked up the phrase “I don’t know what’s going on” from me during that time. I went from frustration to fear that preschool and its promise of a few hours alone a day were beyond my reach to guilt that I was making it all about me and not her. So I got over it, we retrained, and almost a month later, The Button is basically potty trained.

Accidents (knocking on my wooden desk as I type) are few and far between, though I know they’ll happen when she starts preschool. The portable travel potty we used when The Pumpkin was first trained is ready to go at all times in the back of my car, and my bag is crowded with paper towels, plastic bags, and extra clothes when we go out. Shopping at Target is a workout when you have to get from the far reaches of the store to the restroom—multiple times, of course, as the first three or four visits result in nothing but another “I have to go!” a mere five minutes after you’ve left the bathroom. And though her short little arms still can’t reach very easily, she’s getting a lot better at the whole wiping and pulling-up-her-own-pants thing.

She’s so proud of herself, she runs out of the bathroom (after flushing and washing her hands, of course) to announce to whoever is in the living room, “I peed in the potty!”

My baby is growing up.

And that’s what I did on my summer vacation.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

on our anniversary, honoring beginnings and building the future

Twenty years ago this September, Michelle and I met on our very first day on campus as first-years at Brown University, where we had arrived before orientation for the Third World Transition Program (TWTP), at which incoming students of color were introduced to the university, the community into which they were being inducted, and the history and legacy which they were inheriting. A year later, we were best friends who had become something more. And five years after that, on June 27, 1998, we got married in front of our family and friends, many of whom had been there with us since the beginning.

A month ago, a dear friend, whom we had first met when I was a second-year student and Minority Peer Counselor working TWTP and she was a first-year attending it, wrote to tell us that she had learned at her reunion (held concurrent with commencement on Memorial Day weekend every year) that the campaign to raise a $100,000 endowed fund so that TWTP would never have to worry about the security of its funding was still $25,000 short of its goal, with the June 30 fundraising deadline fast approaching. Learning this, Michelle and I talked about what we could do. TWTP has meant so much to us and our Brown experience, literally the starting point of our journeys as college students, as socially conscious activists, as life partners. And truth be told, we hadn’t ever given philanthropically to our alma mater in a way that we felt we should have. And so, because we were lucky enough to be in a place in our lives where we could do so, and because it mattered, we offered the Alumni of Color Initiative a $10,000 matching challenge with which to rally our peers. If, by June 30, they had raised $10,000, we would give a matching $10,000, leaving only $5,000 left to raise to reach the endowment goal.

On June 6, our challenge was announced at a fundraising event in New York City, and then on June 12, an email went out to alums of color in our name:

Twenty years ago this September, we arrived on campus for TWTP, 18-year-old first-years from California who knew no one and were 3,000 miles from home. But on that very first day, we inherited a community, a history, and a legacy, to own and keep and grow and carry forward for those who would come after us.

So many TWTP alumni call it a transformative experience, and so it was for us. Not only did we meet each other and the friends who would stand with us when we got married six years later, but the call to understanding, action, dialogue, and justice to which we were introduced on those emotional and inspiring days in September informed who we became and what we did in and out of the classroom during our Brown years and beyond, into our careers and communities and the values we pass down to our children.

And now it is time to give back so that those who come next will be able to do the same. The Alumni of Color Initiative campaign to create a $100,000 endowed fund to allow TWTP to continue independently and in perpetuity is so close to its goal, and we now ask you, our friends, our brothers and sisters, to join us in support of a program that has meant more to us than we can say.

As part of the Jason Sperber ’98 & Michelle Quiogue ’96 MD’00 TWTP Endowment Challenge, our family will match any donations to the Endowed Fund for the Third World Transition Program up to $10,000 until the formal end of the campaign on June 30.

Click here to help us ensure that future generations of Brunonians of color will be able to have their own transformative inductions into a community and a legacy that has been so important to so many of us.

In solidarity,

Jason L. Sperber ’98 and Michelle S. Quiogue ’96 MD ’00

It is the best 14th anniversary present we could receive to be able to announce that, in less than three weeks, our friends and peers, those who came before us and those who came after us, our fellow Brunonians of color met our challenge. Actually, more than met our challenge. As of this morning, there remains only $1,400 left to raise by Saturday, June 30 to meet the fundraising goal of $100,000 to fully endow a fund which will provide monies for the support and administration of TWTP in perpetuity. (So please, if you haven’t given yet, click the links above and give!)

Fourteen years ago today, as we pledged to love each other always, we were surrounded by friends who had journeyed with us in Brown’s Third World community and had been with us from the beginning. One of my groomsmen and two of Miche’s bridesmaids had been with us at TWTP, and if memory serves, we all met that very first day. Our ceremony pianist was another friend met at TWTP, and our ceremony violinist had been one of my counselees when I was an MPC in a first-year residential unit my second year. One of our ceremony readers was that very same woman who let us know about the dire need of the TWTP endowed fund, and she was accompanied by the man who would become her husband, who had been the very first freshman I had helped to move into the dorms on that very first day of the TWTP at which I was an MPC. We were surrounded and loved by friends whom we had met when we were first-years and they were older student leaders welcoming us into our new community, by younger friends we welcomed to campus as we had been welcomed who then became counselors and leaders themselves, by friends with whom we’d grown and struggled and studied and played side by side from day one. That day, it was beyond a doubt that we would not have been the people we were, and the people we were together, without our Brown experience, and our TWTP experience was no small part of that.

It’s been so gratifying to hear back from old friends in response to our campaign, from Facebook “likes” to reposts to emails from people we haven’t talked to in years telling us that they donated because of our challenge. 20 years after we met, 16 after many of us left Brown, we are still building community, making connections, and fighting for justice. But now, the nebulous “those who will come after us” we always invoked is more concrete. We do this for our children, and our friends’ children, and all the children who will come after.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

fathers and daughters

He called out to me as I was taking the blue recycling bin out of the side yard by the garage to roll to the curb. He had stopped his bicycle in the middle of the street, several feet away from the mouth of the driveway, when he had ridden by and seen me. He called me “sir,” and said he didn’t mean to startle me.

I was already in a bad mood for no good reason. I’d spent what felt like fifteen minutes searching through piles of shoes looking for my sandals, muttering frustratedly about never being able to find anything in my mess of a house. Then, once in the backyard where my wife and girls were playing with the dog in the spring air after dinner, I tried unsuccessfully to put air in The Pumpkin’s flat bike tires with a pump that was either broken or just impossible for me to figure out, adding self-pity to the frustration.

Now, here was this stranger intruding into the few minutes of solitude I’d have all day (taking out the trash!), probably a panhandler or can collector looking to get into the recycling bin I was dragging toward the curb. I was ready to blow him off, like I do most people who ask for money since the long-ago time I gave bus fare to one stranded man only to see him hitting up others with the same spiel hours later.

He stayed astride his bike, proffering his driver’s license as proof of his identity. He had lost his job but couldn’t collect unemployment because of a dispute with his ex-employer. He and his two daughters were homeless, had been on the street, then in a shelter which they left after he became concerned with the attention being given his daughters by an adult male resident. Tonight was their fourth night in a motel, where a neighbor lady was watching the girls, paying by the day as he scrounged the money. He was hoping to make the last $17 doing any odd jobs in the neighborhood. He’d made some money scrubbing out buckets for a florist, but he’d do anything, for whatever one would be willing to give.

I sighed, not knowing what to do. I didn’t think he was conning me. He seemed utterly sincere, contrite, and undemanding. I told him I didn’t have anything he could do around the house. I asked him about other resources, other service providers he’d tried to use. He named a few that he’d been to, said that they had some food but he was concentrating on finding work to make enough money to keep a roof over their heads for one more day, to make it one more day.

I told him to stay right there, that’d I’d be right back, and I went inside. I wondered what kind of reception he’d gotten from others he’d approached in the neighborhood that day, a lone black man on a bicycle in an area where there weren’t that many others. I thought about my girls, glancing at them through the back window as they played without a care, my wife probably wondering where I’d gone, what I was doing. I put a tray of leftover pad thai that la dra. had brought home from a meeting two nights before into a plastic bag and got a twenty dollar bill from my wallet, and headed back outside. As I walked past the kitchen window, I saw him wiping tears from his eyes.

I walked up to him and handed him the bag, telling him that it was stir-fried noodles, too much for us to eat alone. He thanked me as he took the bag, taking my soft, unexperienced hand in his rough, calloused one and shaking it. I don’t know how much older than me, pushing forty, he was, if at all, but his hands were proof of a life of hard work, all done for his family’s sake, a life I can’t imagine and by luck and circumstance have avoided having to know. As he thanked me, I handed him the folded bill and said, “I’m a father too.” I watched his eyes water as he saw what it was. I knew exactly what it was–three more dollars than he needed to guarantee one more night of shelter for his girls, enough so he could stop looking for work for the day and go be with them. He shook my hand again, firmly, thanked me again in a voice I could tell he was trying to keep from breaking. Was there anything he could do for me, he asked, any chore or odd job, anything at all? No, I said. Just take care of your children, I said, and take care of yourself.

After he thanked me again and rode away, I walked back into the backyard and found my loves in the far corner, at the play structure. The Button was sitting sideways on the swing, yelling “Yee haw!” as she pretended it was a horse. The Pumpkin was climbing up as high as she could go, saying, “Look at me! Look at me, Daddy!” Their mother was next to the play structure, playing with Fluffy, and she looked up as if to ask where I’d been. And without a word, I went to each of them, holding their faces in my soft hands and placing a kiss on their foreheads. My girls just laughed and went on playing, knowing that their mommy and daddy were there, and that they loved them. And at that moment, that is all they needed to know.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 19 Comments

this is me at thirty-eight

Whenever I’m in photographs, I’m rarely alone. Just as during the undocumented moments that make up the majority of life lived, I’m always with others: holding a child up high, or putting an arm around my love, or squeezing into the crowded framing of a group shot of family or friends. I am defined by the people in my life: son, husband, father, friend. So much so that when I have to, say, pick a photograph to serve as a profile picture on Facebook or Twitter or to illustrate my biographical statement for a conference or to put on the back of a business card, I don’t choose a solo photo. Partly because I don’t have any solo photos to speak of, but also because this is who I am, the man in the photograph with the child, with his girls, with his family. Who am I if not that man? Who am I without them?

Now, reading back those lines I realize that they sound way more morose than they were intended. Actually, they weren’t meant to be morose at all. I am because they are. I have always defined myself as such, and seen that as a good thing. When I was the college race activist, those things permeated all I did and all I was, from extracurricular activities to the very things I studied in the classroom. When I was a teacher, however badly and however briefly, youth issues and education for change and social justice were why I was there, were who I was in and out of the classroom, or at least, they were supposed to be. When I did digital journalism and social media, I lived on the cutting edge, I read and researched above my paygrade and dreamed of the next wave of the democratization of information and my place in it. I have never known how or where to draw those lines.

And as a parent, oh, as a parent… It is all-encompassing, all-enveloping in a way that makes all those other things seem mere preoccupations. And as someone privileged to be at home with my children for most of their, and my, time, sometimes those lines between them and me seem to fade into nonexistence. Sometimes, that’s okay. Other times, it’s a sign that you need a break, no matter how guilty you may feel to take one, for both their sake and your own.

Ironically, my break, a not-so-little pre-birthday gift from myself and from my wife, came in the form of a trip to a conference of dadbloggers. Six years ago, I combined my long-ignored love of writing with my love of my family and of this new role I found myself in and became a self-professed “daddy blogger.” I wrote about the politics of being a stay-at-home-dad, about race as a parenting issue, about all the little minutiae that fill the days of a new parent at home with a baby that no one really wants to read yet again. As time went by and our family grew, I wrote less and less, and got more and more tired. With a second-grader exploring her ever-expanding world and a toddler not yet in preschool but bursting with energy and thoughts and feelings she can’t yet express in language I can always understand, I’ve found myself quicker and quicker to vocalize frustration even as I cringe within myself when I do it and apologize after.

I didn’t want to put too much pressure on this trip. [And I do plan on writing up a post with more details about the actual conference and the actual trip itself. Though publicly promising such a thing doesn’t always work out for the best for me.] But part of me did hope that, with a few days away, by myself for the first real time, I’d be able to take a breath and come back… I don’t know, refreshed? Calmer? More me again? More able to be present for my family without the guttural noises of frustration that have been all too easy for my littlest one to mimic?

And you know what? Even with the missteps that always happen with trips and conferences and travel in general, I think it worked. I think I got out of it what I needed to get out of it. I was both alone and among peers, with other men who, even if they didn’t define themselves along the same lines as I did, were dads who wrote and were writers who parented. I got to breathe. I got to walk, alone. In the last two days, I hope that I’ve been slower to frustration, quicker to appreciation, and to showing that appreciation, especially to my oldest, so much like me in so many of the ways that scare me for both of us. And I think, I think that I have returned recommitted to writing. Maybe not to this blog necessarily and specifically, but to my craft, to the act and practice of writing, to being a writer, to writing all this down. Because if I really look back, before all those other encompassing identities and underlying them along the way, there was always this, the word, the act of putting fingers to keyboard, the magic of expression caught on screen and paper. This, too, is who I am.

And, at the conference, thanks to the friendship, generosity, and talent of a fellow traveler whom I’ve known for years but only just “met,” I finally have that headshot, that solo photograph, that image, alone, and yet not, because all those others who usually share the frame with me are still there, in my eyes and in my smile.

Today is my birthday, and this is me, at thirty-eight.

Who will I be tomorrow? I can’t wait to see.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 12 Comments

freaky friday (and thursday, and saturday, and sunday)

I don’t get out much.

And that’s fine. No, really.  I mean, yes, I’d love more regular outings sans kids with my wife, and I’d surely appreciate more solo time to read and write. (Read: to nap.) And yes, just a couple hours ago I had one of those archetypal moments SAHMs often refer to when dreaming of the day they get to use the bathroom alone and in peace. (And yes, I just wrote that last sentence while my eldest darling stopped by the computer desk just long enough to blow a birthday party noisemaker in my ear.)

But life being what it is, it just works out that way, most of the time, and I’m okay with it. But this week is different. This week, la dra. and I are sort of changing places.

In a few hours, in the pre-dawn darkness, I’ll be winging my way toward Austin, Texas and the inaugural Dad 2.0 Summit, where I’m proud to be among an amazing array of speakers and panelists. I won’t be back until way past the bedtimes of all my family members on Sunday night. That’s three nights—and two weekdays, which my wife is taking off from work.

That’s right. I’m going on a business trip, and she’s staying home with the kids. Freaky, huh?

When The Pumpkin was three and I was working outside the home, I was gone one night to speak at a digital journalism workshop, but I left on a Sunday and the next day was a regular preschool and work day. A year ago, I was privileged to rep parentbloggers on a panel at an Asian American bloggers’ conference, and was gone two nights; that time, I left after the school- and work-day was over on a Friday and came back Sunday, and my in-laws came on Saturday and stayed until Sunday.

While la dra. and the girls will go down south for the weekend to visit la dra.’s family and celebrate our nephew’s fifth birthday [Happy birthday, Moose! Sorry I won’t be there!], Thursday and Friday will be my wonderful partner’s first real solo at-home-parent experience. La dra.’s been going on multiple business trips a year for advocacy, activism, and education, and when The Pumpkin was younger, and especially when it was just her and I was at home, it was no big thing for all of us to go with her. But now, with her in second grade and having to miss school, and with The Button, at three years old, getting more and more independent [read: harder to wrangle], it’s easier for her to go solo for most trips. Last year, she spent an amazing week at two family medicine conferences working on advocacy, leadership development, and legislative lobbying; that was the longest I’d gone solo. More typical are trips like the one she took last month, which, like mine this week, was Thursday to Sunday.

I know that it’s a stereotypical trope for an at-home parent (usually a SAHM) to worry about leaving their work-outside-the-home partner at home with the kids overnight, and then to be happily surprised when they return to an intact home and uninjured children. I am so not doing that. I am, however, leaving my wife with a detailed list of what happens on a weekday when she’s not at home, from when to leave to get to school on time to what kind of snacks the girls eat in the afternoon. And I also know that, as a SAHD, my kneejerk reaction to reading a post by a SAHM who leaves her husband detailed instructions when she goes away would probably be similar to the reaction of dads across the interwebs to the current Huggies fiasco (for example, see this post by the moderator of my Dad 2.0 panel on dads and community). And please, please believe me that this is not like that. (Heh. That sounds exactly like what someone would say if it was exactly like that.)

You see, I’m the kind of person who puts toothpaste on his wife’s toothbrush because he’s the first in the bathroom, or routinely unplugs his wife’s cellphone in the morning and puts it in her work bag, or puts his kid’s homework folder in her backpack. And this is by no means a humblebrag or anything, because the kind of person who routinely does these sorts of things out of love and caring is also the kind of person who, as a result, has family members who forget their stuff because they’re used to it already being where they need it. And thus, the checklist.

I am also the kind of person who does all the laundry and dishes so that my wife can concentrate only on enjoying her time with our daughters during her first experience of SAHMishness. (Okay, that one is sort of a humblebrag, so sue me.) I am glad that she will be able to take The Button to her parent-participation kiddie-gym class and The Pumpkin to her gymnastics class, both of which she never gets to go to. I am glad that she’ll be able to go to both The Pumpkin’s class play and her oral language competition. I am glad that she’ll get to meet the other parents that only know me (though I’m confident that no one will ask her, as they might if the situation were reversed, if she’s babysitting today). I am glad she’ll get this time she usually doesn’t get. And I am so thankful to her that she’s enabling me to go to this conference, an early birthday present of sorts (yeah, I’m turning 38 on Tuesday).

That whole thing about how I don’t really need time to myself, at the beginning of this post? Yeah, screw that. I do need this. More and more, I’m catching myself losing my patience with my girls, overreacting, yelling when I shouldn’t. I’m so used to our daily routine, I don’t want that to become part of it. I don’t want to expect too much out of a couple days (well, actually, at three nights and four days, the longest I’ll have ever been away from my wife and two daughters all at the same time) away, even amongst my peers and colleagues—dads, bloggers, writers. But I hope I return a little calmer, less tired, refreshed, ready to give my girls the patience they deserve, and ready to refocus and recommit to my own writing and my own creativity.

Oh, and full of Texas barbeque.

Good night, everybody. The next few days should be fun.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

dads of a different color

Next week, I’m honored to be a speaker at the inaugural Dad 2.0 Summit in Austin, Texas. I’ll be part of a panel called “Pack Mentality: Dads and the Power of Community,” moderated by Bobblehead Dad Jim Higley with Chookooloonks writer/photographer/teacher extraordinaire (and one of the first people I “met” in the parentblogosphere) Karen Walrond, NYC Dads Group founders Lance Somerfeld and Matt Schneider, and National Fatherhood Initiative President Roland Warren. Before summit co-founder Doug French asked me to be on this panel, I had put together some thoughts on the issues of dadbloggers of color and diversity in the parentblogosphere. I am happy to be able to talk about the intersection of race, fatherhood, and community at Dad 2.0, and with the conference a mere week away, I thought it’d be a good time to share those earlier notes.

On Dadbloggers of Color and Diversity in the Dadblogosphere

In the scant few hours after I received your Facebook message about my idea for a diversity/dadblogger-of-color panel at Dad 2.0, I saw these items surface in my FB newsfeed:

• A mother of color, whom I knew as a progressive activist and artist during college, posted that her 7-year-old biracial Dominican/Filipina daughter came home from school saying that she wished she were blonde.

• A parentblogger of color posted that upon visiting her biracial daughter’s Southern California public elementary school, she overheard two white staffers complain that a diversity of shades of makeup made it harder for them to find makeup for white people and heard her daughter’s classmates call the peach crayon “skin color.”

• Mothers and fathers of color continued to chime in on a thread started five days ago by a dad of color asking for recommendations for non-stereotypical dolls of color for Christmas.

• A parentblogger of color and public education activist linked to the Huffington Post’s article about a study showing that Black and Latino parents overwhelmingly wanted education reform in their communities but also overwhelmingly placed responsibility for said reform on themselves versus government or the private sector.

I started reading and writing parentblogs because I was a new SAHD looking for community. While I found what I was looking for first in the nascent dadblogger and SAHDblogger community, I soon found that I gravitated toward other parents of color, both moms and dad, and parents of children of color, whether by adoption or intermarriage, even if race wasn’t a primary topic. I co-founded Rice Daddies, a group blog by Asian American dads, with the only two other Asian American dadbloggers I’d been able to identify at the time (including Pierre “MetroDad” Kim), and joined the group blog Anti-Racist Parent (now Love Isn’t Enough) to deepen the conversation. I contributed to an online dialogue on race and diversity in the parentblogosphere, spearheaded by prominent writers of color like Stefania Pomponi Butler, Kelly Wickham, and Kristen Chase, after the first moms-of-color-and-marketing controversy at BlogHer 2007. While such discussion has recurred online and at conferences since then, the conversation is by no means over. Witness the ongoing discussion at Kelly Wickham’s MochaMomma blog spurred by BlogHer 2011 as just one example.

In his addendum to Babble’s Top 10 Group Dad Blogs on Dadding, Jason Avant cited Rice Daddies’ race/ethnicity-based p.o.v. as a reason to read it: “Let’s face it: the dad-o-sphere is still dominated by white guys. Rice Daddies provides a valuable perspective on fatherhood that manages to be both unique and universal.” As the perennial discussion vis-à-vis diversity in the momblogging community underscores, presence and representation is important. Much as contemporary parenting often gets painted as focusing on mothers while giving lipservice to fathers, so too does it get portrayed as monolithic in terms of race, class, and sexual orientation. Just as the media-created frenzy over “the mommy wars” was based in a firmly white middle-class motherhood to the exclusion of the concerns and realities of mothers of color and working-class mothers, current discussion of parenthood in general and fatherhood in particular online and in the mainstream media continues to be monochromatic. While diversity has been a discussion topic in the community for some time now, I believe that the basic starting-point questions of where the dadbloggers of color are and why is it important that their voices are heard are still valid places to start our discussion.

Recent posts give a window into how dadbloggers explore the intersection of race and fatherhood vis-à-vis their own identities as men of color and the lessons they wish to impart to their children in a world where race still matters. Shawn Taylor recounts at Daddy Dialectic the experience of his relationship to his own lighter-skinned child being questioned in public due to assumptions made based on his appearance as a large black man and how he faces explaining the encounter to his child. Tomás Moniz talks about how race, phenotype, culture and politics collide in raising two multiracial children who choose very different ways in which to identify themselves. I write at The Good Men Project about why, as a multiracial father of multiracial children, race is always, contrary to some parentblog readers’ beliefs, a parenting issue. Jim Lin writes at The Busy Dad Blog about how his own experience with racism growing up is different from his son’s. A little further back in time, Pierre Kim writes at MetroDad about his daughter’s early experiences with racism and how he tries to teach her and mediate pop-cultural messages, while at the same time dealing with a pop culture machine that would recast his own, unique parenting experiences with white actors.

Not all dadbloggers of color talk about race all the time, but presence is important. It’s important that blogs like Mocha Dad and Makes Me Wanna Holler are out there, putting an African American face on fatherhood. It’s important that PapáHeroes, a predominantly Latino group blog, was named on Babble’s Top 10 Group Dad Blogs list. Keith D. Morton of African American Dad writes in his sidebar, “This blog is about fatherhood. Black fatherhood to be exact. But it’s also about how no matter our race, gender, political affiliation (or whatever it is that can potentially separate us), good parents are all connected through parenthood. Our shared experiences are what bind us, not to mention our love of a good story.” The specific and the universal are both important, and we cannot have one without the other.

Dadbloggers of color can and do deal with, in life and on their blogs, issues that people of color and parents of color have always dealt with. We can talk about how, by our very presence and example, we grapple with and fight against stereotypes, just as dadbloggers in general fight against stereotypes of fathers and men in families: the distant and strict Asian father; the absent African American father; the patriarchal and sexist Latino father; the invisible Native American father. We can talk about how race and masculinity intersect, and how we see ourselves as men of color. We can address how race is a parenting issue, and how it should be seen as such for all parents, not just parents of color. We can talk about how race is a factor when mediating and advocating for our children’s education. While by a momblogger rather than a dadblogger, Liz Dwyer’s recent post and video at Los Angelista about her sons’ experiences with racist name-calling is an example of the direct, didactic discussion about race and what it means to be people of color, raising people of color, in this society that parentbloggers of color can and do do, in a parentblogosphere that too often either sees race as a non-issue or, just as bad, someone else’s issue.

We can also talk about how we pass down not only lessons about racism and survival to the next generation, but lessons about pride and culture and identity. We can talk about raising the next generation to fight for justice, and how all oppressions, whether based on race or class or gender or sexuality, are interconnected. We can talk about building alliances and how we can all be allies for each other.

I don’t know if this is all too nebulous, but I think that at a ground-breaking conference like this one, a dedicated discussion about race and diversity in the community, a continuation of a conversation that is always on-going, would be invaluable.

I look forward to continuing this conversation in Austin with friends new and old (especially those who I’ll get to meet IRL for the first time!).

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments