Shredding the “Man Card”

The phrase “man card” has been around for quite a while, but of late it seems to be popping up with more frequency in my Facebook and Twitter feeds. ;Usually it is in reference to a guy doing something “girly” and giving permission to take his card away.

I am over this phrase. ;Why? Because according to the rules I don’t get to have one, even though the last time I looked down I saw the necessary equipment.

I don’t qualify as the stereotypical man for the following reasons:

1. I don’t like sports. ;They just don’t do it for me. ;Sometimes I will watch a game with my wife (she likes to watch college football) but most of the time I end up falling asleep or grabbing a book to occupy myself while it’s on.

2. I like “chick flicks.” Give me a GOOD romance any day of the week over a testosterone fueled action flick with lots of explosions and little plot or character. (Note the use of the word GOOD…anything by Nicholas Sparks is swill in my not-so-humble opinion). ;I like a movie that tells a story, that draws the audience into the emotional content, that I can relate to. ;I’ve never saved the world from a speed-racing drug cartel, but I have been in love so I can connect with that. ;Which leads me to the next point…

3. I cry during movies. ;And TV shows. ;And books. ;And church services and news stories and when something emotional happens to someone I don’t even know. ;One time I was sobbing so loudly at a movie that my wife actually felt embarrassed and, had the theater not been packed, would have tried to move away from me. ;What can I say, I’m a sensitive soul (and the movie was REALLY heart-wrenching). ;I like to cry. ;When I’m feeling particularly disconnected I will purposely seek out a tear-jerker just so I can really let loose.

4. I’m more interested in a woman’s brain than her body. ;My wife is a sexy fox, but even if she weren’t she has an amazing mind and soul that would have drawn me to her anyway. ;I can’t imagine being attracted to a woman just because she has big bazoombas, a sweet a$$, or a pretty face. ;Those are all nice perks but if she’s dumb or dull then there is absolutely no attraction. Not even a gut physical attraction. ;I never tried to date any girl who was just attractive. ;I always got to know them first and then the attraction would begin.

5. I enjoy doing household tasks. ;Well, very few people actually ;like ;to clean, but I enjoy dividing domestic duties up with my wife and doing my fair share. ;I do the dishes, I clean the counters, I bathe the kids and put them to bed most nights. ;I am more skilled with a vacuum cleaner and a mop than my wife is. ;We divide our domestic tasks ;not by who has what genetalia, but rather who is better at completing the job and/or who hates it less.

The list could go on and on, but I’ll stop it there for now. ;The point is I am no less of a man for these reasons. ;I’m just a guy with personal tastes. ;Plenty of guys dedicate their lives to sports and drool over women with big fake ta-tas and that is totally fine as well. ;That’s just who they are. ;Where I get caught up is in the idea that a “real man” or a “manly man” has to be a certain way. ;I’ve been called whipped. ;I’ve been called weak. ;I’ve been called gay. ;All because I would rather watch My Best Friend’s Wedding than Sports Center.

It used to really hurt my feelings that people (men AND women) would make these assumptions about me until I stopped and realized just how ridiculous it all was. ;People are just people, shaped by their influences, genetics, and choices. ;My unique cocktail of life experiences has shaped me into the person that I am, and I have nothing to be embarrassed or ashamed of. ;I like who I am. ;I like my life. ;I have an intelligent, beautiful wife who makes me happy and allows me to make her happy. ;I have wonderfully weird kids who are growing up to be proud of their uniqueness. ;My life is full of laughter and tears and I feel well-rounded and connected to all the parts of myself. ;So if all of that means that I don’t get to have a “man card” then so be it. ;The things that I do have are so much more fulfilling anyway.

This Date Sucks…And Rules.

Checking my Twitter feed on our date.

Wifey and I love food. Or to be more accurate, we love good food. We consider ourselves to be “foodies” and so our nicest dates take us to restaurants with Michelin stars and James Beard Award winning chefs. Unfortunately, budget constraints don’t allow Wifey and I to go out very often, certainly not to such high-priced locales. And with four kids under 8, the cost of a babysitter who is brave enough to take the job pretty much zaps our entire date budget. So, despite our yearning for fancy food, most of our dates end up taking us to places that totally suck.

Take last night for example. My parents graciously agreed to keep our offspring for us and we decided to go out for something slightly fancy. We received our tax return this week and decided to use a small portion of it to treat ourselves before spending the rest on things we actually need. We tried to get reservations at two of our favorite restaurants but both were completely booked up. I did manage to score us a reservation at a well-reviewed restaurant but could only get in at 9:00 and we were both too hungry to wait that long and needed to get back by 11 to relieve my parents anyway, so we cancelled and decided on a popular, if slightly less fancy, dinner option.

It was awful. Absolutely disgusting. And expensive to boot. I kept looking around at the other patrons who all seemed to be having the dining experience of their lives and judging them for their lack of sophistication and taste (rude, I know, but it’s true). The restaurant was one of those Brazilian meat-on-a-spear places where they have a salad bar of sides and then constantly bring around a variety of proteins in unholy amounts for you to enjoy. What were we thinking? As people who eat very limited amounts of meat as it is, and as complete and total food snobs, we should have known better. Not only were we disgusted by the clearly canned and ill-prepared veggies, but all of the meats were tough, flavorless, and unevenly prepared. There was hardly anything that I enjoyed about it. And to add insult to injury, both Wifey and I got sick afterward from bad-meat overload. By all accounts, this should have been one of the worst dates ever.

Except that it was awesome. Instead of having our evening ruined by a series of unfortunate events, we relished the opportunity to laugh about it. As we sampled each revolting new addition to our plates, we talked about all of the really GOOD food that we have had, and about how and why this fell short. We discussed, and in some cases mocked (I never claimed to be nice), the people who surrounded us: the manager who clearly loathed her job and was on a mission to make everyone hate their lives just as much as she did; the family sitting next to us who ate without stopping from before we came in until after we left; the man who kept falling asleep at his table, only to wake when a new meat-on-a-stick appeared before him. We took pictures of ourselves eating the disgusting fare, flirted both in person and via Twitter (nauseating our followers, I’m sure), talked about the ways that we are awesome, talked about the ways we want to change and improve, laughed, laughed, and laughed some more.

Maybe our date wasn’t the most romantic one that we’ve ever shared; maybe it didn’t go exactly according to plan; but we managed to make it into just what we needed: some time alone that allowed us to reconnect and remember all of the reasons that we fell in love to begin with (cue the violins). If we had managed to get in to one of the fancy restaurants, we would have spent the evening oohing and aahing over the food and the dining experience itself would have dominated our evening. Instead, we were able to focus on each other.

So the next time your romantic evening doesn’t go exactly as planned, shake it off and relish spending time with your wonderful partner. Because that’s really the point anyway, isn’t it?

Do you have a great “bad date” story? Feel free to tell us about it in the comments section. Praise (and criticism) is also welcome. Have a great week!

Living The Li-ife I Wa-ant…

…with herpes!  Ok, so I don’t have herpes (though if I did, I would definitely opt for this treatment), but I always thought it was funny that “Living the life that I want” was the slogan for Valtrex.  I’ve gotta say, I would much prefer not to have herpes over managing it with Valtrex.  But I digress.

On Saturday, Wifey and I loaded the kids into the van and went for an exploratory drive of Dallas.  You see, we hate living in the suburbs.  As I have written of previously, the ‘burbs are just not our bag for a host of reasons and we have been longing to relocate into a more urban setting.  I have a pretty nice gig teaching theatre here in town that I’m not ready to leave at present, so we thought that we would check out the option of living in Dallas and just commuting to work.  That way, I can keep my job but we can live in an environment that is better to our liking.  Wifey downloaded a geolocating realtor app on her phone and we took off to start our tour.  We came across several nice houses in our price range, but unfortunately we discovered that the entire Dallas urban area is basically the same as the suburbs: strip malls, major retail outlets, and chain restaurants.  Everything we would need or want to do would still require us to drive, as Dallas is incredibly sprawling.  And the areas that are more localized have demolished all of the historical buildings and houses in favor of more suburban, expensive models.  It was incredibly disheartening.  After having wracked our brains for months to try to come up with a solution to our suburban woes, we had convinced ourselves that this would be the answer only to have reality crash into us head on.

On Saturday night I was incredibly short and ill-tempered, feeling discouraged and just a little bit sorry for myself.  Wifey tried to console me by saying that we would just make our home into what we wanted it to be, that we didn’t have to be defined by our surroundings.  We would make the best of our situation.  So I snapped at her that her idea wasn’t good enough and was just settling in a place that we hated while trying to put a smile on it.  A proud moment for me, I must say (note the sarcasm).  I went to bed feeling frustrated.

But when I awoke on Sunday morning I started to think about what Wifey had said the night before.  The truth is we can find another place to live with more of the external perks that we prefer, but our day-to-day lives will be pretty much the same anywhere, so why NOT start there?  We should begin by making our home the place we want to live and not relying on our house to make us happy.  After all, isn’t the preoccupation with the physical and material trappings of life what we really dislike about the suburbs anyway?  And even if my own preoccupation is on the other end of that spectrum, isn’t it still along the same line?

So I started to list in my head some ways to make our home life more awesome, habits and routines that make me happy, make me feel like I am living the life that I want.  And we are starting to integrate them as time and money will allow.  Yes I still have to drive to the mega-supermarket to buy all of our groceries, and yes many a date night will take place at a crappy chain restaurant, but the company I keep on those dates can’t be beat and the home that I bring those groceries home to will be the simple, loving haven that I desire.  I’m going to live the life that I want…without herpes.

Inked, or How My Tattoo Makes Me a Better Father

For my Christmas/Birthday gift this year, Wifey gave me something that can I can never lose or return: a tattoo (plus a legitimate excuse to never, ever have to give blood…”home tattoo” is way more manly than “cries at the thought of needles”).  I’ve wanted to get one for a long time but hadn’t been able to come up with a design that I would want to carry on my body from now until the day I die.  I was also held up by the fact that I really wanted to tattoo my forearm, a very visible location.

I had this idea that I would never be taken seriously as a professional and as a father if I had large, visible ink, an idea that was only reinforced by the frequent responses of “really?” when I would tell coworkers and other acquaintances about my intentions.  Nobody ever said to me “you’ll never be taken seriously as a professional and as a father if you have large, visible ink,” but their inflection and sideways glances coupled with my own paranoia sure made it seem like that is exactly what they were saying.  As a compromise of sorts, I had decided to get a simple, fairly small cross in the crook of my arm…something that would be acceptable due to its religious nature and small enough to cover for work without having to wear full long-sleeved shirts all the time (my district has a “strict” no-visible-tattoos policy…unless you are female and have one on your calf or ankle, apparently…but that’s a topic for another time).  I’d decided on the artist I wanted to do it (Jeremy Shawn…he’s amazing) and was just waiting to have a little bit of extra cash to get the job done.

The time had come.  Wifey was going to use my Christmas gift as the opportunity to get me to finally do it.  And as the day approached, I was feeling unsure about my cross.  Was it really what I wanted?  I mean REALLY?  Forever?  And the answer was “no.”  So Wifey suggested to me that I get…what I got.  And I listened because she is wise.

By this point I had already come my personal epiphany about being who I wanted to be without concern for the opinions of people I don’t really care about, but I hadn’t connected this epiphany to my tattoo dreams.  So when I made the final decision to go with a giant elm on my left forearm, I did so without fear or doubt.  It’s what I wanted, so I got it.

I tell this story to illustrate my decision to change my life.  I have one life to live.  It can be guided by the opinions of a panel of outside observers who ultimately don’t care about what happens to me one way or another, or it can be guided by me in the way that I want it to go.  Will some people doubt my professional abilities if they happen to catch a peek of my tat under my shirt cuff?  Maybe.  Will some people automatically assume that I am an amoral father because I am carrying my baby in an arm forever decorated in ink? Could be.  Are their assumptions correct?  Absolutely not.  In fact, I would argue that I am actually a better father and teacher BECAUSE I have a tattoo, because I feel more empowered and in control of my life.  For too long I’ve allowed myself to make decisions based on the perceptions of others.  And what has it gotten me?  A significant case of depression and self-doubt.  And those things suck.

30-Something Dad, Round 2

My blog is much neglected over the last 9 months. And I don’t care, stuff happens.

I’ve actually started about 10 different posts that never got published, one for every month I’ve been “silent” I suppose. I would be struck by random inspiration and start to type, and then lose interest and abandon the effort. The story of my life for the last little bit.

You see, I started this blog as a way to jump-start my life. I thought that if I embraced who and where I was whole-heartedly and energetically, I might actually convince myself that my life was just as good as I thought it should be. That was a fail. In order to blog successfully, you have to be pretty narcissistic. You have to believe that your life is interesting enough for people to want to read about it. And I haven’t found myself to be particularly interesting for a while, therefore developing a major case of blogger’s block.

But lately I’ve been doing some self-reflection and I’ve come to realize something: when your life sucks, change it. Despite my best efforts to avoid it, I’ve been caught in the trap of suburbia: fit in, fit in, fit in. Well I don’t fit, no matter how hard I try. I’m not suburban. I don’t care about buying shit. I don’t care about the latest, greatest new chain restaurant. I don’t care about having lots of money. I don’t care about being fashionable, etc., etc., etc. I’ve known this for a long time on an intellectual level, but somehow my inner psyche didn’t connect with that and so subconsciously I’ve been stressing about the fact that I just can’t make it work. I’m done with that now. My psyche has seen the light.

So, welcome to 30-Something Dad, Round 2 where, for better or for worse, I’m just going to let loose to say whatever I want, shoot from the hip, and document my ongoing journey back to just being who I am. If you are enjoying yourself, continue to follow my blog. And if not, then shut it…’cuz I do what I want.

Rejecting Sainthood

Me with Artemis and Apollo

Me with Artemis and Apollo

On Saturday one of the priests at our church received a call from woman that she knows who had come to the heartbreaking decision that she was no longer able to care for and support her 15 month old twin children. Her home was unfit for habitation, her water and electricity had been shut off for over a month, and she was just unable to provide what these children needed. So she made the best (and most difficult) decision possible and allowed her children to go into the care of someone else. On Saturday night they stayed with a family from our church.

We learned of the situation on Sunday and in order to assist we collected some of the clothes that Peanut had outgrown and found some of Bubba’s toddler clothes in the garage and took them over to the family that was fostering them, along with some toys and a spare high-chair. We felt good that we had been able to help these precious children who were in desperate need of some compassion.

On Monday morning, we received an email from the Children’s Minister at our church that the family that had taken the babies over the weekend were unable to keep them for an extended period of time and so other accommodations were needed ASAP. And Wifey felt a stirring to take them into our home.

I said no. We already have 4 children and barely manage to keep our sanity as it is. Nor do we have a vehicle large enough to transport 6 children, all of whom are in car seats. And, to be perfectly honest, it is my Spring Break and I’ve been looking forward to some down time before a hellish couple of weeks when I go back. Plus, we’d promised to have a great week with the kids taking day trips and doing a lot of fun activities which we couldn’t do if the twins came to stay. It just seemed really inconvenient and impractical and I didn’t want to do it.

Wifey graciously accepted my decision. If we were going to do it we both had to be on board. And she agreed with all of my reasons. But I could tell that she wasn’t convinced, and the more I thought about it, the more unsettled I became. What if they couldn’t find another home and they had to be moved day to day? Those kids didn’t need that after the trauma that they were already experiencing. And we were certainly already equipped with almost everything we needed to care for toddlers and what we didn’t have the church would provide. And it seems selfish to not be willing to help so that I can take more naps. My one hold-out was our promise to the kids. So I decided to leave it up to them. I explained the situation, making sure they understood what they would be giving up, and gave them a few minutes to think about it. They seemed to be struggling with some of the same reservations and feelings that we were. They wanted to help out, but were they willing to sacrifice this special week? Finally, we asked for their decision and they both emphatically said that they wanted to help the twins. I was so moved by their generosity, and so proud!

But I was still unwilling to fully commit. So we offered to take them as the option of last resort. If NO ONE else was willing or able, we would take them. We furiously cleaned the house in the off-chance that they were coming, and as we readied our home, both Wifey and I became more and more compelled to just take the plunge. When we finished up, we called the church to check the status of volunteers. There were several families that were able to help for a few days, but no one who could take them long-term. That decided it. We wanted them to come live with us until a permanent home could be found. Sure it would take some sacrifice and quite a bit of rearranging, but we knew it was the right thing to do. So an hour later we opened the door to two of the most beautiful, precious and sweet children that you could imagine (we’ll call them Apollo and Artemis). And despite a night of little sleep and overall controlled chaos, I know we are blessed to have been chosen for this task.

Naturally, since making the decision, we have been inundated with praise about how wonderful and brave we are and have even been called saintly. But it makes me uncomfortable that people react in this way. Perhaps for the non-religious, such an act does seem to be saintly. We are putting ourselves at great inconvenience for some kids we’ve never met and for absolutely no personal gain…other than warm fuzzy feelings that is. But we don’t see it that way. When we were struggling to decide whether or not to open our home, what kept nagging at us was this verse “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27). The Bible is full of calls to care for orphans and makes it a top priority for every Christian. So it isn’t really because we’re so saintly that we do this. It is because we are called to do it specifically by God. We’re not saints, we’re just Christians. Regular people following the example of Christ.

Last night our priest stopped by to drop off some final supplies, and before leaving she said that we were role models. Now THAT is a label I’m willing to accept. I pray that by our actions we can inspire others to give more deeply of themselves in service of others, following the example of Christ. I am inspired by my children who were so willing to sacrifice of themselves, and I am proud to set the example for them that even when difficult, it is paramount to assist those in greater need. I think that more Christians need to be willing to give what they have and beyond with the faith that God will support those that follow his commands.

A saint is someone who rises to the top among his or her peers by going above and beyond in service to God. I pray that by our actions we are NOT saints, but that we fit into the crowd of other Christians who are all doing the same.

My Life, [Censored]

Last Wednesday, I wrote a post reviewing the documentary This Film Is Not Yet Rated.  The film explores the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), specifically examining the controversial rating arm of the organization and questioning whether their practices amount to censorship.  The filmmakers are especially concerned about the NC-17 rating, which is applied to films that are deemed to be unsuitable for youth based on content that they feel is outside of what is considered to be “culturally acceptable.”  Filmmakers that receive this rating have the option of accepting limited distribution or editing their films to the liking of the ratings board in order to earn an R rating.  In my review, I called into question the seemingly sexist and homophobic “standards” that they use in rating these films and the culture that determines these standards, citing my personal views on the matter.

Upon reading my post, the esteemed women in my life (Wifey and Mom) cited concern about its content given my employment as a public high school teacher.  They were worried that if the “wrong person” stumbled onto my public blog that my statements could be misconstrued, thereby threatening my professional reputation and position.  They suggested I edit my post to make it more acceptable to the general public.

As much as I hated to admit it, they were right.  And that REALLY pissed me off.

It saddens me that we live in such a narrow-minded and litigious culture that one must always fear social (and often professional) backlash for expressing one’s beliefs.  My post dealt with issues related to artistic freedoms and integrity, matters closely related to the subject that I teach, yet I had to censor my thoughts lest someone take offense.  We probably all know at least one person who has been fired from a job for venting about work on Facebook.  We have probably all lost friends based on public comments regarding our views on politics or religion.  When did our society become so closed-minded that expressing opinion has become a dangerous endeavor?  Perhaps it has always been that way.

I know that in life we must always make choices about what we say and how we act with consideration of the repercussions.  It is necessary in order to be successful, have job security, maintain friendships, and garner respect.  I teach my students that in acting, as in life, we must wear many masks depending on the company we keep at any given moment.  But how far is too far?  At what point am I sacrificing my integrity to put on a socially acceptable mask?

Truthfully, I can deal with losing social relationships based on my opinions.  If the people who I’ve chosen to count as friends feel that we are too different to continue, so be it.  But when it comes to the aspect of my life that puts food on my table and allows for a roof over the heads of my children, I am scared to offend.  I hate bowing to these pressures and I wish it wasn’t a choice I had to make.

We spend so much time teaching our children to be “who they are” and to “not be ashamed” of their opinions and beliefs.  But, in fact, it is just a lie.  What we should really teach them is that it is only okay to be themselves as long as who they are cannot be found to be outside the limits of “cultural acceptability.”

So I deleted my post to protect myself from backlash as opposed to editing my views.  Apparently, my opinions are rated NC-17.