Tip jars in the doctor’s office, heroic Millennials, and an uncomfortable response to my humor, just in case you were wondering…
*Yeah, I know “make it so,” was a completely different generation, but I wanted you to feel smarter about yourself. And, while you’re reveling in your cultural hipnitude, how about taking the logical step of clicking here to become a subscriber?
So, last week I explained why being a dad is the easiest job in the world, which led millions of unengaged dads to leap off their couches and do their duty. I know because my mailbox has been stuffed with poopy diapers that other fathers have sent me, clearly to show their gratitude for my lessons in the Tao of Fatherhood.
This week, we continue our tutorial with a Father’s Day list of all the things you need to know to be a great dad. (Also a great mom, but I finished this too late for Mother’s Day.) Our super-secret list shows how simple it really is to raise great kids and finally earn your “World’s Best Dad” coffee cup.
And so, we submit with great pride and just a bit of trepidation…How to Be the Bestest Parental Unit Ever!!
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With Father’s Day coming up next week, we can look forward to the annual media blitz about abusive fathers, fathers in prison, absentee fathers and generic baby daddies of all sorts. Just in case people were still feeling familial warmth after Mother’s Day, the third Sunday in June is the perfect time to balance the scales.
Oh, well. It’s not that the world is filled with inspirational stories about nurturing dads who helped their children to thrive. More common are the tales, often told by successful entrepreneurs, about being left destitute by drunk/absent/philandering/abusive fathers. That’s probably the reason that nobody looks into the TV camera at the football game and yells, “Hi, dad.”
This is incredibly surprising to me, because being a good dad is such an easy job that you’d think more men would give it a whirl. I’m not talking here about guys who don’t have kids. Nope, I’m focusing on the men who have children and are missing out on the honors, accolades and pedestal-upon-putting that comes with being even a moderately engaged dad.
Because, let’s face it, men benefit all the time from the incredibly low expectations that people (read: women) have about us. We can get major points for washing our own underwear, or even for putting it in the hamper. Our wives will brag about us if we make dinner once a month, and we qualify for a medal if we remember to put down the toilet seat. The bar is set so low for us that we almost need to dig a tunnel if we want to limbo under it. And yet... so many guys go the extra mile to give 110% and leave it all on the field in order to throw the game.
I supposed at one time that the era of unengaged fathers was over, a relic of my parents’ generation, or maybe mine, but certainly not a Gen X or Gen Y or Millennial thing. But the tradition seems to continue in many households where the sperm donor declines the opportunity to change diapers, bathe, clothe, feed or, in many cases, be alone with their children. (Yes, I have met men who are unwilling or unable to spend time with their own flesh and blood, unless mommy is there to make sure everything is fine.) I don’t know whether it’s fear or rigid gender roles, but it is insane on many levels.
First, it’s ridiculously easy to change a diaper. You can’t stab a baby with adhesive strips and, even if you put the diaper on wrong, you can blame the baby.
“Look at that mess. Zelda is already an overachiever in at least one area, hahaha. But I changed her last time, hon, so it’s your turn now.”
Second, you don’t have to change the diaper frequently; 5-10% of the time is enough to win awards for your commitment. And, if you “admit” to changing diapers with poop in them, you’re halfway to Dad of the Year. Still, so many dads refuse to change a diaper filled with doody balls that the guys who do the dirty work can qualify for pretty much anything except a hall pass.
Being an engaged dad takes some work, but the rewards are unbelievable, including a potential room over the garage when you get old and your wife finally evicts you. In the meantime, minor tasks like changing clothes, feeding, and reading bedtime stories are a piece of cake for real men. We’re the ones with the can-do, take-charge, problem-solving chromosomes.
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Over lunch the other day, a friend related the challenges of adjusting to changes within his own company. He is the boss, the owner, the big cheese, but his biggest job is that of a professional shape shifter, finding ways to adapt in order to remain relevant, and valuable, within the company he founded.
He was once the chief salesman, chief marketing officer, chief financial officer, and the chief everything else. Now, though, he needs to figure out new roles for himself at each step of the company’s development and with each new hire.
Over lunch the other day, a friend related the challenges of adjusting to changes within her own family. She is the mom, the aunt, the grandmother, but her biggest job is that of a shape shifter, finding ways to adapt in order to remain relevant, and valuable, within the family she founded.
She was once the mom of children, then college kids, then the mother-in-law and, now, a grandmother. And there’s no stability in sight, because she knows her relationships with her grandchildren will shift again as they grow.
Life, it turns out, is a continuous process of adaptation, a series of transformations into new roles, new responsibilities, new identities. We’re the...
...big-dog eighth grader
...new hire again
...old hand again
The crazy part is that we seem to be surprised when it happens. We change our roles and our positions in each organization continually, whether it’s our family, school, workplace or homestead. Each time, though, we wonder at the experience of needing, once again, to find our place, to make the adjustments, to fit into our new situation. Some people say they avoid change in their lives, but those people aren’t really paying attention, are they?
This could be a great life hack, a terrific lesson we can pass on to our children and grandchildren. Your life will be a continual process of adapting to new roles and new situations, with so many transformations that you probably won’t even notice when some of them are happening. Stay alert, though, because the lessons are largely the same and you’ll be applying them again and again and again.
Just as we share 99% of our DNA with chimpanzees, our transitions share 99% of the same factors, as well. New job, new school, new marriage, new friends…all bring the same mix of excitement and trepidation, insecurity and identity. The jargon changes, but the fundamentals are the same.
Unfortunately, our mistakes are often the same, as well. We all have a friend who keeps falling into mismatched relationships or jobs or investments. Sometimes that “friend” is the person who looks back at us in the bathroom mirror each morning. Once we learn to recognize the patterns, though, we can figure out what we’ve done well and poorly in the past, so we can ace the next test and the one after that.
The specifics will change, but the process is eternal. New situation? No sweat. I’ve done this before.
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Dad would have been 95 today, and so...
My dad owned a small business, which meant he worked 12 days a week. Every so often, he’d take me downtown with him on a Saturday morning and I’d get to play with the T-squares and the copy machine and, best of all, the electric erasers.
One such morning, we’re walking past the library (now the Cultural Center) on the way to breakfast when a beggar comes up and asks for money for food. My dad declines to give him any cash, but he says we’re going for breakfast and the beggar is welcome to join us. And so, our party of three parks at the counter of a diner near the IC station under Michigan and Randolph.
The waitress takes a look at our guest and declines the opportunity to serve him, but my dad insists and notes that he is going to pay the bill for our new friend. Then, dad sits between me and the beggar and talks with the guy during breakfast. I have no recollection of the conversation, but the amazing part to me was that they had a conversation at all.
Dad was a patron of the art of panhandling, adjusting his largesse for the originality and personality of the donee. It was a good bet that the people who asked for money had made some big mistakes along the way, but it was an equally good bet that my dad, like almost all of us, could have made a comparably bad move that landed him on the street.
After we parted from our new friend, dad said he preferred to buy food instead of handing over cash, because the recipients might just buy booze if left to their own devices. Once, he said, the guy asking for money simply admitted he was a drunk and would spend it on hooch. Dad gave him extra points for honesty and financed his next round.
(Modern note: Doesn’t it seem very patronizing and patriarchal for him to have forced his judgment on the beggars regarding how they spent their money? Wasn’t that a blatant assertion of colonial power, cultural appropriation and severely infantilizing? In hindsight, now that I am superduperly woke, I am mortified that he bought them food. What a privileged bastard he was.)
Fast forward to a family vacation in New York, when we’re walking with our daughters on 42nd Street near Grand Central Station and a man comes up to ask for some change and I decide to buy him a meal. It costs more than spare change, of course, but it does more good, even if I am paternalistically imposing my choices of nutrition on an otherwise sentient soul. After I make sure my new friend is served, I relate my childhood story to my daughters, and they remember.
Fast further forward, my girls are grown now, with children of their own, and I received a note from one of them about buying lunch for a beggar. Maybe, one day, their children will do the same.
Some heirlooms are well worth passing down.
What story do you tell from your childhood, and what story do you want your kids to tell about you? Please share your memories in the comments section and subscribe if you haven’t done so already.
More than forty (yikes!) years ago, I wrote a presentation about the dangers of becoming too reliant on technology. The technology of the time was the pocket calculator, and my concern was focused on the tendency of garbage in to become garbage out.
I was writing for high-school students and my point was that we need to know the basics in order to catch our keyboarding errors. Type 5 times 7 into the calculator and your answer should be 35. (Really, I checked this.) But enter the information incorrectly and you might get 28 or 40 or some other error that you wouldn’t recognize if you didn’t spend so many hours memorizing multiplication tables.
It was a brilliant argument and, of course, every student who heard it threw away their calculators and bought a gross of #2 pencils. JK. Instead, they all assumed they would be company presidents and their minions would do all the heavy lifting, and addition.
Fast forward four decades and I find I must sound the alarm again, this time in response to a more insidious danger of technology that comes in the form of masters who look like servants. Yes, I’m talking about you, Siri, and your co-conspirator, Alexa, and whatever Google calls its viper at your breast.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, everyone is going nuts about Siri taking notes when your kids sing that baby shark song, but that's just a head fake. Our internet gods will announce the end of eavesdropping and we'll lower our guard once again. That's when they'll pounce or, more accurately, devour our paychecks from ambush.
That's because you might have paid to have Siri live with you, but Siri doesn’t work for you. Siri works for the companies who buy advertising and positioning opportunities from Apple. Alexa serves the highest-margin clients of Amazon. They reply to your commands, but their hearts belong to someone else.
In-home assistants are the avant garde of the robot revolution, the takeover of our lives by artificial intelligences that smile and smile while being villains. These devices are undermining the consumer’s advantage online, and eliminating the race to the bottom that is the design flaw—and consumer edge—of the internet.
Search engines enable us to find exactly what we want at the lowest total cost. We can see which offers are promotions paid for by advertisers and we can check the reviews of the low-cost offers to find out if anyone actually received the products they bought. We can take the offer that’s highest on the page, knowing somebody paid Google for the placement, or we can take a few minutes to refine our search and determine the best overall value for ourselves.
Delegate those decisions to Alexa and you might as well declare that money is no object. There is no simple way to ensure that she or Siri or the Google thing will get the best deal for us. We own the device, but we are absolutely not the customer.
When we buy a house, we don’t confide our maximum offer to the real estate agent because the agent works for the seller. We engage the agent, but the seller pays her, so her duty is to them, not us. We apply similar skepticism with insurance agents, stock brokers, lawyers and doctors, because we know they get paid more for certain advice and less for other recommendations.
We’re inclined to lower our guard, though, when the same servant that’s making our buying decisions is also playing our songs and ordering our pizza. She sounds so friendly and servile and efficient. How could you not trust her to get you a deal on humidifier filters?
The more we rely on counter-top assistants to handle our day-to-day activities, the more we’re likely to pay for everything we buy. Trust me on this. I was right on target with my prediction 40 years ago and I am overdue to be right again.
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Who writes this stuff?
Dadwrites oozes from the warped mind of Michael Rosenbaum, an award-winning author who spends most of his time these days as a start-up business mentor, book coach, photographer and, mostly, a grandfather. All views are his alone, largely due to the fact that he can’t find anyone who agrees with him.