Remembering The Man Who Made It Look Easy

 

Today is Father’s Day, I know this because for the past few weeks, my email accounts and social media feeds have been clogged with gift ideas for Dad, everything from Omaha Steaks, to tech toys, and an assortment of supplies from the Art of Shaving.  Thank you Mark Zuckerberg.

It’s my fourth Father’s Day as a dad but my mind isn’t on the latest Cool Base baseball jersey or another pair of running shoes, it’s on my Dad.

Growing up my parents hosted a Father’s Day cookout in their backyard that was both simple and excessive – especially after joining Costco.  Year after year my Mom and Dad produced elaborated spreads of all sorts of mouth-watering grilled foods, sardines and shrimp, Italian sausages, pork chops, and steaks, paired with beer, or pitchers of homemade wine and sangria.

This family tradition wasn’t always elaborate — it grew over the years.  I remember when the four of us sat in the yard around a picnic table Dad built, as he grilled on a stone barbeque grill he built with my uncle.  As the family grew to include daughters-in law, grandchildren and others, so did the menu.  Besides the food, the other thing I remember about Father’s Day was never seeing Dad wear or use any gift we gave him, he put them into a draw of the back of the closet, never to be seen again.

Sadly, I never enjoyed this event as a father, we spent my First Father’s Day in a nursing home as Dad battled Pancreatic Cancer during his last days.

My Dad was a craftsman, one of a lost generation of finish carpenters, brought in to add a special touch to the corner offices and corporate boardrooms for Wall Street investment houses and Fortune 500 companies, and sometimes the homes of their top executives. I remember him being sent to work to in cities like Boston, Philadelphia, or San Francisco for a week of two.  Although he hated being away, it was the best way he knew to provide for his wife and family.

As a kid, I remember he had already left for work before my brother Bob and I had gotten up for school.  After work, he was always working around the house or planning the next home improvement.  When Mom asked if he could put a stove next to the playroom Bob and I played had in the basement, so she could keep an eye on us as she prepared dinner, he built her a kitchen.

Now that I’m a father one thought keeps coming back to me, he made it look easier than I do.  He worked full time, raised two sons, and maintained a house without breaking a sweat. Working full time and sharing the parenting duties of one three-year old and takes up most of my time and energy.  These days I barely get to sit at a keyboard and write.

A few months ago Cristian and I were out walking through the neighborhood when we saw Mrs. D.  She’s known me since I was a little older than Cristian is now, I grew up playing with her kids.  After catching up on how everyone has been and how old her grandkids are, we talked about my Dad.  I remember telling her, “I don’t know how he was able to do it, he made parenting look so easy. He raised two sons, I have my hands full with one.”

Shaking her head, she smiled and said, “Don’t be so hard on yourself, you’re doing more than you think.  You grew up in a different time and things are different now.”  She nodded at Cristian saying, “When you were his age, parents had defined roles and one paycheck supported a family, nowadays both parents have to work and need to share handling the responsibilities.”

Mrs. D gave me a lot to think about and I kept coming back to the advice a friend gave me when my better half was pregnant.  He said, “Do what your parents did and fill in what’s missing.”  That’s a tall order.

Dad wasn’t a big speech guy—his actions spoke more clearly than his words did.  If he made a promise, he kept it.  He was an old-school father—he didn’t tolerate tantrums—he ignored them.  He seemed aloof when my brother Bob and I argued back and forth, but he wasn’t.  He was letting work things out on our own.

Another lesson he taught took me years to figure out. It drove the family nuts when Dad ignored the polo shirts, cologne, and power tools we gave him through the years.  In fact, he used to tell us, “Don’t waste your money on gifts, I don’t need anything.”  I used to think he was being proud, but he wasn’t.  For him spending the day with his children and grandchildren was the gift he wanted most.

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Finding A Babysitter — The Search Continues

Don’t let the smile fool you, the bib tells the story.

The past three years of parenthood has brought its share of challenges.  One of our bigger challenges is finding a reliable babysitter.

Like most first-time parents, we wanted to be involved in every little thing. I remember both of us watching him nap and changing those first diapers together.  Like most newbies, we wanted to be the perfect parents, forgetting you don’t achieve perfection, you strive for it.  Little things like that kept us from going out much those first months.

Esther’s aunt Titi Luisa, the original baby whisperer, instinctively called and offered to watch the baby.  The calls always came at the right time, giving us a chance to run a few errands or maybe go to Starbucks for a blissful hour in a baby-free environment.

It’s easy to get caught up in the perception of the perfection—especially when you grew up watching Brady Bunch reruns.  I watch the Brady Bunch now and see Mike and Carol Brady knocking back a few cocktails and leaving the stressful stuff to Alice, the maid.

Looks like the babysitter loaded him up on Benadryl.

Titi Luisa wasn’t the only person who offered to watch Cristian during early days but as new parents we were a bit overprotective.  Maybe our expectations are a bit unrealistic—our ideal babysitter had the compassion of Mother Theresa and the strength and the resiliency of a Navy Seal.  We had a vetting process more stringent than the White House—of course I’ve heard their vetting process has slipped a bit over the past year.

Watching a three-month old baby is easy, just give him a bottle and wait for him to take a nap.  It’s amazing how fast those initial babysitting offers dried up after the Cristian started walking—of course posts like this didn’t help either.

Babysitting a hyperactive three-year old without using Benadryl isn’t for the faint of heart.  Your neighbor’s 13-year old daughter checking her Instagram page on her iPhone isn’t getting it done.  Try that with Cristian and the house will look like Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria within 15 minutes.

We found an excellent babysitter who flew through our vetting process easily, a pleasant 30-something Central American woman.  She came highly recommended by family members, and was bilingual. She was incredibly energetic, taking Cristian to the park, playing with him at home, and bringing an iPad to keep him entertained.

Esther with the boys

Our Latina Mary Poppins was very pricey—the GDP of a third-world country pricey.  She was building her dream home in her country, babysitting Cristian allowed her to send home money to finance the construction.  She stepped up when my dad was sick, babysitting Cristian at a moment’s notice, sometimes staying with him until late into the night.  Rumor has it her waterfront villa has a wing in it named after, paid for from with babysitting earnings.

We’re currently vetting her replacement, because we didn’t want to put up a kidney as collateral as she priced tennis courts and an olympic-sized pool.  Over the past months we’ve swapped babysitting chores with my in-laws—giving each other a breather by watching each other’s kids.  So far, it’s worked out pretty well, the boys get a chance to play together, the adults get a night out, and Esther and I get to keep our vital organs.

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The Quest For The Perfect Christmas Card

The 2017 Priegue Family Christmas Card – English Version.

It’s almost Christmas making it a perfect time to talk about holiday traditions.  A new one for us is family Christmas cards.  Back when I was single and happy, they were easy—I rarely sent out any.  After getting married, my wife sent out cards for both of us.  My contributions were limited to printing mailing labels and dropping the cards in the mailbox.

Our 2010 Christmas Card.

Becoming proud parents meant sending out family cards.  We weren’t going for the preppy central casting version of the family posed in front of a fireplace wearing matching Christmas sweaters with a golden retriever in the foreground.  We don’t have a fireplace, matching Christmas sweaters, or a dog.

I spent countless holiday seasons goofing on friends sending pictures of their kids that doubled as Christmas cards.  The cards either said “we successfully reproduced” or “here’s a picture of our precious child sitting on a creepy old man’s lap, what were we thinking.”

It’s amazing how becoming parents changes one’s perspective.

Before Cristian was born we sent out cards bearing the image of our practice child—Chico.  We even took him to the mall one year getting a picture of him sitting on Santa’s lap.  Looking back, Christmas came early for Chico that year as he humped Santa’s leg for a good ten minutes.  That was the card we should have sent out.

A few years later it was Cristian’s turn as we took our infant child to the mall to meet Santa.  It should have been a no-brainer.  Cristian was all smiles that day, Esther picked the perfect outfit and we timed his nap perfectly.  What could go wrong?

It started after leaving him in the hands of an old man smelling of Ben Gay and malt liquor then backing away.  He didn’t cry because mommy and daddy were nearby making silly faces, but the deer in the headlights look was not what we were going for.

Who is this creepy old man you’re leaving me with?

The following year Esther’s sister and son Justin met us at the mall.  They boys had a great time playing as the line slowly moved forward.  We hoped Justin flashing Santa a smile as he tried convincing Santa to leave an extra toy of two under the tree would motivate Cristian—it didn’t.  He threw a tantrum Mariah Carey would have been proud of.

Last year we skipped the mall and headed to Hicks, a garden center on Long Island.  Sure fertilizer, snow shovels and Santa Claus just screams Christmas, but our annual holiday tradition was like Wile E. Coyote unpacking the latest Acme product and chasing after the Road Runner, so what the hell.

Hicks was a pleasant surprise, it didn’t have the Home Depot feel I pictured.  Cristian entertained himself running between poinsettias, colorful displays, and a Christmas Village as Esther waited in line.  However, new year, new location, same result.  Cristian started wailing as soon as we put him on Santa’s lap, as if he told the baby he was getting coal in his stocking.  He ignored me when I tried soothing him by mentioning coal mining was a dying industry.

I still think this would have made a great Christmas card.

Although preschool taught Cristian about Santa and he now points him out whenever he sees him images of him, we set the bar low this year.  Once again, we dressed him up and headed to the mall but he wasn’t feeling it.  Esther and I decided to go with Plan B when he froze at the front of the line.

We spent the past year collecting a library of cute images of Cristian.  While it doesn’t exactly scream Christmas it did keep daddy from cracking open a tequila bottle when we got home from the mall.  I dropped the cards in the mail this morning.  Merry Christmas!

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Seven Things I Learned in Three Years As A Parent

A few weeks ago, Cristian celebrated his third birthday—how did that happen.  I still remember clicking my infant son’s car seat into its base so gently you’d thought I was handling a carton of eggs.  Time passed and we’ve grown as parents.  We don’t have it all figured out, but we aren’t tiptoeing into his room to see if he’s breathing anymore.

Parenting is on the job training.  Here’s what 3 years taught me:

The Difference Between A Fake Cry And A Tantrum – It takes time to figure this one out, so let me educate you.  Like its cousin, the tantrum, the fake cry is another one of those joyous ways toddlers communicate.  If you can’t tell the difference, watch your child the next time he or she is freaking out at the cash register at Toys R Us or the supermarket checkout when you try taking away a toy or box of Fruit Loops. If your child is smiling, smirking, or checking if there’s an audience, it’s a fake cry.  When fake cries are addressed quickly your adorable toddler soon returns to normal.  Ignoring the fake cry runs the risk of the kind of full-fledged tantrum ensuring parents a trip to the drug store to stock up on condoms.

Don’t move just one more picture.

We’re Not Wrapping Him In Bubble Wrap – Esther and I approach playdates and playground days differently. We both want to wear him out but approach how we get there differently.  Cristian is a super energetic toddler who is totally fearless when it comes to climbing things.  He’s also clumsy, he gets that from me—sorry son.   Wiping out, falling on his face, or crashing into things again and again is business as usual.  He just smiles and continues playing before falling again.  The difference is mom sees a trip to the emergency room, while I’ll laugh and take a few pictures before he gets up.

Converting from Crib to Toddler Bed is Game Changer – I miss the days when Cristian slept in a crib. It’s not me being sentimental—it’s purely practical—cribs form natural barriers.  Once upon a time putting Cristian to bed was as simple as putting him down with a stuffed animal and a bottle and he was sleeping within 20 minutes.

After his second birthday, he became adventurous, staking out his bedroom they way convicts plan prison breaks.  Then one morning, we were awakened by the sound of little feet running across his bedroom floor.  Before long he was climbing in and out of his crib like a ninja, forcing us to convert the crib to a toddler bed and changing his bedtime dynamic for the three of us.  More than once Esther or I have fallen asleep on the bedroom floor keeping Cristian in his crib-less environment.

Cristian and his stuffed animals in his crib planning their next break.

Find Your Tupperware Party – Growing up in the early 70s Tupperware parties were all the rage among the neighborhood moms.  Becoming a parent some forty-years later, I have a fresh perspective on what they were about—a chance to socialize.  Sure a few plastic containers were purchased here and there but that was secondary to emptying a few bottles of semi-fancy wine they couldn’t pronounce with the other moms while the kids were at school.

DIY projects were the dad’s equivalent of the Tupperware Party.  Many of my friend’s dads spent countless hours planning and replanning projects around the house.  Translation, hiding in the garage with a six pack and hidden stash of nuddie magazines.  A new kitchen counter was eventually installed but the time away from their whiny kids was priceless.

Esther isn’t a big drinker and I’m all thumbs with power tools so we’ve had to find our own equivilent.  On Sunday mornings, I’ll distract Cristian with breakfast and cartoons while Esther sneaks out for a morning run.  (See the section on fake cries and tantrums if you are wondering why she’s sneaks out for her run).  Later in the day, she takes over giving me some quiet time to write or go to the gym.  It’s all about maintaing one’s sanity.

Couple Time is Important –  We’ve come a long way since our first date night as parents.  Esther’s sister watched the baby giving us a Valentine-ish date a few months after Cristian was born.  It was just dinner and a movie, but we didn’t make it that far.  When the movie ended, we went straight to the drive-through window, instead of a local restaurant, calling for my sister-in-law and nephew’s order before heading home.

At first, we were over protective but finding reliable babysitters remains a challenge.  Lately we’ve gotten lucky, a friend or relative offering to watch our little guy giving us a chance to go out to dinner and not talk about preschool, daycare or developmental milestones.

Some Friends Will Disappear – Learning this one was rough.  Everything starts out great when you’re new parents and the little one has the new baby smell but slowly things change.  Friends slowly disappear, not all of them, but patterns develop.  You hear things like, “we need to get together more often,” but they are never available when you try making plans.  They’re always “busy” or “things are always crazy at work.” Then you see them out and about in numerous Facebook posts.

Felipe the Goat and I after pounding down a few Patron shots.

It’s A Kid’s Birthday Party Not A Coronation – I’m not a big fan of birthdays, I don’t make a big deal about mine, in fact only a few friends know the actual date—I prefer it that way.  That said I’m not Ebenezer Scrooge when it comes to Cristian’s birthday.

I believe a child’s birthday party should be simple and about the child.  Places like Chuck E. Cheese and Funtopia where kids run, play and have a slice of bad pizza and a piece of birthday cake are all you need.  The guest list should be simple, parents, godparents, aunts and uncles actual aunts and uncles not the family friend claiming aunt or uncle rights and significant others, maybe a friend or two and their kids.  That’s all you need.  Isn’t it?  Silly me.

My better half believes it takes a village to raise a child.  I just didn’t think it meant inviting the entire village.  Guests arriving at this year’s party reminded me of clowns spilling out that little car at the circus.  It wasn’t just family, it was friends, neighbors and their pet goat Felipe. “Just because the barista at Starbucks puts a perfect foam on your latte doesn’t mean you have to invite her to Cristian’s party.  One positive note was Felipe the Goat and I had a great time pounding Coronas down chased with chilled Patron shots.

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When Did I Become My Parents?

Like every parent I thought I’d be cooler and more laid back than my parents were, 33 months later, I’ve had to rethink that.  My parents weren’t always the strict, stressed couple I remember growing up.  I’ve seen old pictures — there was a time when they were young and energetic.  Raising two sons has a way of catching up with you.

Over the past months I’ve noticed changes, I’d like to say subtle changes, but I don’t do subtle — I started morphing into my parents.  If you are a parent you’ve either experienced this or are in denial.

I’ve put together this list to see if you’ve become your parents.

Me explaining the family tantrum policy to Cristian

The Bulging Vein in My Forehead – I first noticed this during Mommy and Me Class.  I thought being the only Daddy in Mommy and Me class would have set the vein a popping but bringing a cooler of beer tucked under the baby stroller took care of that for me.  However spending most of the classes prying open Cristian’s mouth making sure he wasn’t eating Play Doh, stopping him from gobbling up other kids’ snacks, and keeping us both from looking like an old drop cloth while he played with paint and shaving cream made me twitchy.

Daddy Doesn’t Do Tantrums – I was born in the mid 60s before parenting books, websites—or even the internet.  In those days common sense was an essential component to parenting.  My Dad comes to mind, he had no tolerance for tantrums so he used an old-school approach — he ignored them.  Tantrums are Toddler Performance Art, they work best in front of an engaged audience — the show ends quickly when there’s no audience entertaining them.

Heeding Dad’s wisdom, I adopted this policy on Day One.  Holding my crying one-hour old son, I whispered to him gently, “Cristian, I love you but you need to know something, Daddy doesn’t do tantrums.  I’m going to let this one slide because it’s your birthday and you don’t know the rules yet, but going forward I want you to remember this little talk.”  To date, he’s been slow picking up on this one.

Parents Say No, Grandparents Say Yes – You know karma’s bitten you in the ass the first time this happens.  When I was a kid visiting my grandparents meant I’d get away with things I never could at home.  I remember my grandmother saving a six-year old me from a butt whipping or two.  These days Mom is the one spoiling the little one.  I usually find her chuckling as she sees my expression as she’s giving Cristian a sugary snack right before his bedtime.

Tunneling in My Gym classs

You’ve Become Your Child’s Personal Driver – Mom never learned to drive, so in addition to being the sole breadwinner, Dad sometimes had to drive a group of us home from soccer practice, or drop me off at a hockey game in Williamsburg.  After working on job sites as a carpenter, he preferred to relax with a beer or two and the evening news, but off we would go.

These days I take Cristian to play dates, My Gym classes, or to the park to play and burn off excess energy.  It’s inconvenient at times, especially after a nutty week at work but I knew I’d this was part of becoming a Dad.

Of course it’s all a matter of perspective, one of my favorite memories  of my Dad was the two of us battling rush-hour traffic to get into Manhattan. Although he hated driving into Manhattan under most circumstances, he drove me and about 30 pounds of props in to a photo studio on 18th Street, because third-year photo majors rarely get access to a professor’s photo studio for a shoot. Hopefully when he grows up Cristian will have similar memories of me.

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