The Damn Shoes

A prose poem about parenting.

Nothing has humbled me as much as becoming a father. Not my deficiencies as a husband when I see my selfishness firsthand. Not my inability (unwillingness?) to be a good long-distance friend. Not my failures as a pastor when the congregational leaders said they wouldn’t talk with me—and what else did I have to use as a pastor, but words? No, being a dad has revealed just how short my fuse is. How sensitive I can be—a three year-old’s smile fuels me for days, but his rejection is like having someone cut the power to our home. All my skills I pride myself in—responsibility, analysis, reason—mean nothing. I cannot convince him to put on his damn shoes. He screams and writhes about having to put on his damn shoes. And I’m about to throw my own tantrum about the damn shoes. As I go to bed, I pray the examen, and shudder with embarrassment that my desolation for that day is the argument over the damn shoes. And how I stewed throughout the drive to the park, the spins on the tire swing, the tumbles through slides, the return home, about the fight over the damn shoes. I could not calm down. I began to harbor a festering grudge against my son and his damn shoes. When two days later I ask him to put on his damn shoes (minus the profanity) and he does so gladly. And I rejoice, nearly in tears, as if I were watching Neil Armstrong step on the Moon. I pick him up, smother him in hugs, and say a prayer of thanks for those damn shoes.

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Excited to Get Back to Parenting: My Report from the 19th Annual At-Home Dads Convention

Over the weekend I attended the 19th Annual National At-Home Dads Convention in Denver, Colorado. This was my third convention since becoming an at-home dad and once again I found it to be an enriching, encouraging, and rejuvenating experience. I appreciated reconnecting in person with a group of dads who have committed themselves to full-time parenting. These men are some of the most creative and compassionate guys I know. I continue to marvel at our different backgrounds and our passion for our families.

These conventions have become for me an annual opportunity to renew my vocation. Usually I cannot get out the door and on the plane fast enough. I notice my patience at home wearing thin. I find myself nagging my son. So, I relish the idea of a quiet plane ride in which I can read for a couple of uninterrupted hours. When I remember I won’t have to cook a meal for a couple days, I can’t control my smile. The chance to simply hang out and have fun with adults all day sounds scrumptious. But I end up receiving so much more than a mere respite from my daily routine. As the conventions end, I find myself excited to get on the plane back home. I miss my family and cannot wait to spend time with them again. I feel compelled to thank my wife for how she supports me in this vocation, I want to hug my son and employ all the healthy parenting tips I learned from the convention’s speakers and my fellow dads. Each year I think I’m just going to get a break and recharge my batteries. Instead, I am reminded of my calling and encouraged to serve my family in fuller ways.

I came into this convention feeling more physically exhausted than in previous years. My son is an outgoing, gregarious toddler whereas I am deeply introverted. I longed for some time alone and didn’t engage the other dads as much this year. I watched from the periphery, catching bits of conversations. This was the biggest convention yet with 106 attendees, many of them coming for the first time. It was a constant blessing to watch these first-timers smile in disbelief that something like the National At-Home Dad Network and this convention could exist. Time and again I heard dads say they couldn’t imagine how wonderful this convention could be and didn’t realize how much they needed the solidarity of other dads making choices similar to theirs.

The Denver Dads who organized the convention did a great job crafting a fun, meaningful, and thought-provoking experience. We went to a baseball game between the Colorado Rockies and Arizona Diamondbacks at Coors Field. Yes, the game pitted two cellar-dwellers against each other, but what’s not to love about a baseball game in a wonderful stadium on a gorgeous night? The actual content of the convention was very solid, from the speakers and panels to the break-out sessions. We heard from three wives of at-home dads and they encouraged us greatly as they described their family structure, the challenges they face, and their gratitude for the lives they have created with their husbands. Dads gathered in groups according to their kids’ ages and we were able to pick each other’s brains about best practices. I also attended sessions on passing along our faith to our kids and photography. Other sessions  included online safety, healthy marriages, and family finance.

Our keynote speaker, Barbara Coloroso, gave a funny and practical discussion about dealing with kids. More importantly, however, she reminded us that we each have a parenting philosophy that we need to articulate. Parenting demands we think about who we want our kids to become. She said so much parenting and schooling teaches kids what to think, but if we are to raise kids who stand for good values and against injustices (she’s a former Franciscan nun), we need to teach them how to think. We want our kids to internalize the values that lead to good and just decisions, even when such decisions might make them unpopular. The parenting needed for these kinds of kids goes beyond knowing good techniques to creating an environment in which kids will develop self-discipline. Coloroso argues we have to commit ourselves to three convictions:

  1. “Kids are worth it.” (That is, kids are worth our time, energy, and love because they are children and for no other reason.)
  2. “I will not treat a child in a way I myself would not want to be treated.”
  3. “If it works, and leaves a child’s and my own dignity intact, do it.”

Parenting out of these convictions will move us from merely trying to get our kids to mind us to helping our children believe they are valuable and capable of good moral action.

Three years in and I’m already looking forward to the next convention. If you’ve found this blog because you’re an at-home dad or know an at-home dad, please consider attending the convention next year in Raleigh, North Carolina. You will be enriched and renewed. If you have any questions about this last convention or the upcoming ones, leave them in the comments section. I would love to connect with you. Parenting is tough. The African proverb says it takes a village to raise a child. We parents need to remember it is up to us to connect with our fellow villagers so our kids are raised well. We need the wisdom and encouragement of our neighbors. The At-Home Dads Convention is just one opportunity for us to learn from and support each other.

Laughs and Vocation: My Report from the 17th Annual At-Home Dads Convention

On October 4, I flew to Washington, D.C. to attend the 17th Annual At-Home Dads Convention. My friend Bill has served as treasurer for the National At-Home Dad Network and he invited me to attend after my family and I decided to have me stay at home with our son. I was excited mostly to hang out with my friend and to spend a weekend in the nation’s capital. The actual convention and meeting other at-home dads were not high on my priority list. In the back of my mind, I thought a convention for at-home dads seemed a bit superfluous and silly. Let me write, unequivocally, my prejudices were wrong. This was a fantastic convention all around.

The leadership of the National At-Home Dad Network and the organizers from D.C. Metro Dads knocked the ball out of the park. Every time someone spoke and during every event planned the values and goals of the convention were clearly embodied. We were there to relax without our kids, we were there to have a good time with food, drink, and laughter, we were there to support other at-home dads, and we were there because we all take our vocations as at-home dads seriously. To sit in a bar watching playoff baseball over drinks and then have the conversation naturally turn to, “What’s the bedtime routine with your kids?” was a huge blessing.

On October 5, the D.C. Metro Dads took a group of us on a bicycle tour of the monuments on the National Mall. What a fantastic way to see the sites honoring important historical events and figures of our nation. I had not been there since I was a kid, so I was able to appreciate some of the newer memorials like those dedicated to Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Martin Luther King, Jr. After the monuments tour we went on a Capitol tour. It was wonderful to breathe in all that history. While some of us enjoyed being tourists, another group of at-home dads served at a local food bank, distributing diapers generously donated by Huggies. Friday night we had a meet and greet sponsored by Safari, Ltd. I find myself grateful for the opportunity to get to know dads coming from different backgrounds, but who are willing to put their careers on hold to serve their families in this specific way. I had a blast hearing about research that one dad is doing on at-home dads as he finishes his doctoral dissertation, or how different dads groups have taken up the hobby of home brewing. These are some fascinating and truly fun men.

While Friday was perhaps my favorite day, the actual convention met on Saturday and I was impressed by the quality of the speakers and helpfulness of the seminars. I appreciated the opportunity to talk with dads whose kids are roughly the same age as my son. We were able to discuss best practices and recommend helpful resources to each other. Of the workshops made available to us, I most appreciated the thoughtful discussion led by Rene Hackney. She gave us helpful skills to shape our kids’ characters so that they listen well and are able to internalize values such as responsibility and diligence. I also sat in on a helpful panel discussion of how different dads are advocating for greater acceptance in society. Many of them said reporters asked if they felt emasculated being at home with their kids. We have a ways to go, but thankfully, through the efforts of these dads and other people, progress is being made.

I’m still new to this at-home dad gig and I saw first-hand just how much I need to work at creating community with other dads and moms doing the same thing. This convention reminded me that being a parent, a stay-at-home parent at that, is a vocation. I’m thankful to have made new friends. I’ll see you guys at the next convention in Denver.