Stop Calling Me The Babysitter, I’m His Father

Cristian running on the Coney Island Boardwalk

It was a Wednesday morning, which meant Cristian and I were off to Coney Island.  We weren’t going to the amusement park although I planned on taking him to Nathan’s for hot dogs.  Once upon a time, I was a Stay at Home Dad who worked part time as a medical biller.  Wednesdays meant delivering documents from a medical clinic in Brooklyn to my company’s office in Queens.

Squeezing Cristian’s stroller through the narrow hallway, we arrived at a small office where three women worked.  The office soon filled with a group of Eastern European women whenever I showed up with the baby.  One of the women turned and said, “How cute, you are babysitting,” in thickly accented English.

Although she was being polite, she didn’t realize she pissed me off.  At least she didn’t think I was Cristian’s grandfather — that happened later when we were playing on the boardwalk.  Yes, it was a memorable Wednesday.

Driving back on the Belt Parkway, I replayed the conversation in my head, again and again.  After the fifth or sixth time I asked myself, “Does she know better?”

The women in the office were similar in age and background to my family members when I was growing up.  The women in my family handled most of the childcare responsibilities, rarely getting help from their husbands.  In those days’ household roles were clearly defined, men were the providers, and women stayed home and cared for the children.  Some women worked, but it was besides their childcare responsibilities.

My male cousins and I were among the first generation sharing parenting responsibilities with their partners.  Times changed and many families need two paychecks to make ends meet.  This shared responsibility confused my aunts and uncles as they watched us feeding and dressing our kids.  The first time they saw my brother giving his daughter a bottle, you would have thought he was explaining nuclear physics.

I was a Stay at Home Dad for the first two years of my son’s life, and it irritated me when people thought I was doing it to help out my wife.  My experience with the woman in the office wasn’t the first time I heard the dreaded B-Word.

Parenting starts when your child is born — it’s what you signed up for.  Couples usually figure this out during pregnancy, those who don’t are in for a rude awakening.  A child needs both parents because raising a child is a team effort.

Cristian is my son — you can’t babysit your child — it’s called parenting.  Someone pays babysitters for their service.  It’s an important service, ask any parent in desperate need of a night out. Whether it‘s the neighbor’s teenaged daughter or an older woman, they are watching your children for a few hours but at some point they go home.

Cristian in Mommy and Me Class

Society has changed since I was growing up, and more parents are sharing parental responsibilities, but a double standard still exists.

A mom taking her kids to soccer practice is doing what’s expected of her, but when a dad does it, he’s babysitting..  With more women establishing themselves in careers and more men as Stay at Home Dads you wouldn’t think the concept was a still a novelty, but it is.

When I was an SAHD, women would offer the clueless dad advice on diaper changes or feedings while standing in the Target checkout aisle.  I almost expected them to ask if my wife knew I was out with the baby.

Although I’m no longer the only dad taking his child to a MyGym class or the playground, we still have a way to go.  My son and I were enrolled in a Mommy and Me class and more than once I’ve had to change his diaper in the back of my SUV because men’s restrooms are not always equipped with changing tables.

Does a double standard still exist?  My brother and discussed it in July at his daughter’s eighteenth birthday party.  To give further insight, my son celebrated his fourth birthday last month.

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Young at Heart or Merely Delusional?

Do I look like his father or grandfather?

I spent my fiftieth birthday sitting in a movie theater on a humid Summer afternoon.  Waiting for the previews to start, I thought about my life, as I sat in air-conditioned comfort On that day, I was an unemployed project manager, preparing to reinvent myself for my next major project — fatherhood.

In addition to the afternoon matinee, Esther and I planned to see another movie later that evening.  I took advantage of the day knowing such opportunities would not exist in the next 60 days.

When Cristian was born four years ago, I was about twenty years older than the average new father. I didn’t feel my age, wasn’t delusional, or trying to trying to shave twenty years off my age to get more Tinder matches.  I just wanted to start a family.

When Esther and I announced we were expecting a child, I heard the phrase fifty is the new forty — a lot. That phrase always made me laugh.  It gave me images of buying a 1968 GTO without checking under the hood, or looking for rust.

Four years later, I’ve reinvented myself again, this time as an academic advisor at a college.  A few weeks ago, Esther and I were discussing our work schedules for the coming week.  My calendar was full of scheduled class visits at the college where I work. I mentioned the next day’s visit was with a younger guy, about my age. I wasn’t expecting the smirk she replied with.

Unlike other 50-Somethings, I don’t need this stuff.

The instructor wasn’t the Central Casting version of a college professor, a bearded white-haired gentleman, wearing a tweed blazer.  He was an active fifty-something, with two kids under six, who runs, hikes and snowboards.

Since that conversation, I wondered, if I’m the fit, active dad, I believe myself to be or just delusional.

I’m aware that I became a father at an age where many friends were sending their kids off to college. They were touring college campuses when I was finding the Baby First Channel and rediscovering Sesame Street.

I’ve always thought of myself as young at heart, with a younger maturity level.  I’m the one watching cartoons with Cristian on weekends.  When Netflix dropped the Minions from rotation, I immediately ordered the blu ray from Amazon.  I’d like to say I did it for him but…

Fifty-four years put some wear and tear on my body. The difference between me and the rusting fifty-year-old muscle car in the garage is, they are gentle miles.  I’m in decent shape, am not taking prescription medication, and don’t need a few cocktails to unwind after work.

Life has a way of creeping up on you. I remember when I looked great for my age. Then I was the guy who got the approving nods when friends checked out my fiancé. These days. I hope they don’t think Cristian’s my grandson.

My motto to this adulting stuff.
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Five More Things I Learned Since Becoming a Parent

My last post was well received, thank you readers and Dad 2.0 Summit, but there was more to write. Sitting down with my notes, I crafted a new post from deleted bullet points – a blog post sequel. Am I being insightful, or shamelessly churning out another post using existing material?  You be the judge.

Your Quality Time Lasts About Two Hours A Night – Remember those quiet evenings when you curled up on the couch with Netflix. Those quiet nights when you caught up on movies you missed in the theatre or watched unviewed programs in your DVR was always quality couple time. Then we had a child. These days our viewing habits revolve around what keeps him entertained. Our couple time doesn’t start until Cristian goes to sleep.

To speed up the process, we use a tag-team approach. While I’m bathing him, my better half is taking out his pajamas and getting the next day’s clothes reedy. Our evening starts once he falls asleep.   That’s if he doesn’t wake up or sneak out his room 20 minutes later. Sometimes we’ll watch a movie, or I’ll write. More often than not, Esther comes downstairs and finds me asleep in my favorite chair with the remote in my hand.

Sometimes You Need A Night Out – Parenting is demanding. Keeping up with schoolwork, playdates, and eight or nine other things is both exhausting. Lazy parenting is the gateway to huge therapy bills in your future.

Parents need a break too. Hobbies and mental health breaks are the best way to avoid sitting in the car chugging exhaust fumes. My better half and I learned to spot when the other needs a break from the little guy. It could be an hour at Starbucks with a book and some coffee. The other parent entertains Cristian with a puzzle or watching Yo Gabba Gabba.

Back when Cristian preferred CNN to Peppa Pig

The More Things Change The More They Stay The Same – Parents in the 70s had a creative method for grabbing an extra hour of sleep on Saturday mornings – Looney Tunes.  They introduced me to eccentric millionaires, smart-assed rabbits, and the defective nature of Acme products.  Forty years later Cristian and I spend Saturday mornings watching his favorite programs over breakfast.  Although he’s not getting exposed to opera, like I did with Kill the Wabbit, they aren’t bad.  More than once, I’ve waited to see how Catboy, Owlette, and Gekko outsmarted Night Ninja.

Beware of Overeager Grandparents Offering to Babysit – I’ve written about our challenges in finding a babysitter while adding to the GDP of a certain Central American country. My better half and I are not fortunate enough to have overeager grandparents stepping up at a moment’s notice. That may not be such a bad thing, have you ever wondered why they are so eager?

I’ve learned overeager grandparents have an ulterior motive – payback. Do you think your parents forgot all the times you skipped curfew dated dodgy types, and took inches off their hairline?  It’s all question of picking your poison, what’s more important, a much-needed a night out or your three-year-old asking for M&Ms before dinner time?

You Will Become Your Parents – Every expectant parent thinks they will be more laid back than their parents were.  That theory goes up in flames once the baby starts walking.  I’ve noticed I’ve adopted some of my dad’s signature moves from the vein popping in his forehead, to going room to room flipping off light switches.  Becoming a father has given me a greater appreciation of how much of a standup guy my dad was.

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Nine Things I Learned Since Becoming A Parent

With the Birthday Boy at his pre-school.

Recently, Cristian celebrated his fourth birthday. For about a week, Esther and I relived our first days as parents.  There is something nostalgic about birthdays.

We remembered Esther’s aunt brushing his hair into a baby Mohawk in the hospital, friends stopping by to visit, and his first days of preschool. After a few days, I sat down and put a list together of things I didn’t expect. I apologize in advance if it sounds like a greatest hits package.

Cleaning products are a parent’s best friend.

Pee, Poop & Puke — I came into parenthood with my eyes wide open. I knew there would be dirty diapers, and baby-related messes. I just had no idea that something so small could make such a huge mess.  Play dates and MyGym classes have given me a chance to swap stories with other parents.

We’ve spent time comparing notes.  We swapped stories on getting peed on and bleaching the bathtub after the baby dropped a deuce during bath time.  So far, no one has found a sure-fire way to get the puke smell out of toddler bedding. If you are considering starting a family, reread the last two sentences a few times until it sinks in. Remember, you’ve been warned.

Don’t dad-shame Bond.

I’m Not the Babysitter, I’m His Father – I was a Stay at Home Dad for two years, and the quickest way to piss me off was calling me the babysitter. Let me explain the difference — babysitters get paid — parents raise their children. Do I look like a teen-aged kid spending more time with their Snapchat feed than watching the baby?

These days, grandparents and older family members aren’t the only ones who can’t tell the difference. Journalists can be just as clueless. Piers Morgan recently mocked Daniel Craig for carrying his one-month old daughter in a baby carrier. Many outraged dads lashed out via Twitter making Mr. Morgan aware that Dads take an active role in parenting.

Separation Anxiety Can Be Rough – We found this out when Cristian was six weeks old. Driving Esther to work on her first day back from maternity leave, Cristian started crying before I stopped the car. I thought it was a one-time thing — silly me. He soon adapted to our feeble attempts at distracting him with Sesame Street as Mommy tried sneaking off to work, or even to the bathroom.

We thought it would pass, but it’s gotten worse — now he does it to me. Gone are the days when I could leave him in the gym’s nursery with a tablet and get in a quick workout. It’s effected how we plan date nights.  These days, the babysitter meets his school bus when he gets home from preschool, saving us all from a tantrum.

Kids Will Repeat Anything They Hear –  Remember how excited you were when your child said its first word? That joy fades quickly once your child starts repeating things, like a voice-activated recording device.  Esther now has to worry about what both men in her life might say.

A child’s vocabulary grows exponentially, once they start preschool, leaving parents wondering where they learned certain words.  I remember Cristian proudly sharing a new word with me. It had four letters and started with F. Worried, because I’d have to explain the origins of this new word to Mommy, I asked him to repeat it. I was relieved when he repeated the word, adding ribbit ribbit. Since then I’ve picked my words carefully around him.

A Sick Child Will Make You Feel Helpless – There is one thing consistent to all parents regardless of age, gender, or financial status — it sucks when your kid is sick. Cristian was fifteen months old, the first time he experienced a high fever. Crying, uncomfortable, and giving off a furnace-like heat, he looked to Mommy and Daddy to make everything better.  We grew increasingly frustrated when we couldn’t.  I’ve never felt more helpless in my entire life than I did on that night.

Friends Will Disappear From Your Life – Losing touch friends is a sad part of life.  How many friends have you kept in touch with since high school?  The number of friends we’ve lost touch with since becoming parents has been eye-opening. Things changed since the early days when friends stopped by to “see the baby,” These days we hear everything from, “It’s been tool long” to “We were giving you space.”

I understand that spending an afternoon at the zoo isn’t for everyone, Neither is spending an evening with a toddler bouncing off the walls like he’s in a pinball machine. We all have busy schedules, but I learned – some will make an effort, and others will make excuses. I never thought starting a family would make friends disappear like they were in the Witness Protection Program.

If Things Are Too Quiet, Be Very Afraid – Say goodbye to any semblance of quiet time, once your child reaches toddlerhood.  A child playing quietly in the other room is not your friend.  If you think you scored a chance to binge watch Game of Thrones, guess again. When things get too quiet, I immediately grab a broom and a box of hefty bags.

Spontaneity Is Replaced By Structure – Remember the days before parenthood, also known as the good old days.  Being spontaneous was easy, we could go to the movies or away for the weekend at a moment’s notice.  I miss those days.

With parenthood comes responsibility, or the ability to fake it for those who don’t know better.  Once your child starts daycare parents start establishing routines and schedules.  Vacation and time off from work revolves around school.  These days our evenings are about keeping Cristian on a schedule.  Although we mix things up, it’s some variation of playtime, dinnertime, bath time, bedtime.  Deviating from this will have dire consequences.

Despite the Challenges, Parenthood is Rewarding – Since becoming a Dad, I’ve congratulated new parents the same way, Congratulations, your life is about to change, but it will be worth it.  Being a Dad is the toughest job I ever had — and I’ve had many.  The hours suck, you don’t get weekends off, and the boss is extremely demanding.  Looking at Cristian playing happily with his tablet as I write this, fills me with awe.  I still can’t believe I helped create this awesome little being.

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A Letter To My Son On His Fourth Birthday

The Birthday Boy

Happy Birthday Cristian, today you are four years old. You looked so happy when we put you on the school bus this morning. Mommy and I have a surprise for you, we planned a birthday party for you later today. You’re going to love the yummy cupcakes Mommy’s friend Angie made for you – they are so good that Mommy and I will probably have one too.

We have special memories of your very first birthday four years ago. We didn’t get much sleep because the nurses spent the night trying to induce Mommy.  Daddy kept making Facebook posts to keep everyone up to date. We knew then that you inherited your parent’s stubborn streak, and Mommy’s habit of making everyone wait for her. You’ll understand more about that when you get older.

Don’t worry son, Daddy has it under control.

You were born at 1:20 pm on a sunny Thursday afternoon. We were anxious to meet you and curious to see who you looked like. I remember you were crying and Mommy asked me to try and soothe you by talking to you. Since we hadn’t agreed on your name yet, Daddy put on his best Darth Vader voice and said, “Son, I am your father.” The nurses all laughed, but don’t worry, Daddy knows how to talk to you now.

Your first few days were a blur of feedings, diaper changes, and watching you sleep through bloodshot eyes. It took us a few days to establish a routine, but every time you smiled at us, you made us forget how tired we were.

A few weeks later, Mommy’s maternity leave was over and she had to go back to work. We spent a lot of time together as you gave Daddy a crash course in Stay at Home Dad 101.  Although no one admits it, there were a few concerned family members. To be honest, Daddy was a little worried, too.

Getting Cristian ready for our morning training run.

We had fun together, we watched Sid the Science Kid, discovered the Sprout Channel, and Daddy introduced you to Sesame Street. I took you everywhere, you rode along on Daddy’s training runs, we went to MyGym classes, and you helped Daddy deliver documents when he worked as a medical biller.

We are constantly amazed at how much you are learning and we love seeing your personality develop. Mommy and Daddy took turns chasing you around the playground and the Rockaway Beach Boardwalk.  We love how much your face lights up when we take you to the zoo or the aquarium, and were both happy, yet a little sad when you started daycare. You have to understand that when we look at you, we still see the spunky, chubby-cheeked little guy, who peed on the pediatrician during his first doctor’s appointment.

I know you don’t remember your grandfather, but you made quite an impression on him. He waited so long for a grandson, and you will never know the joy you brought that old man. The smile on his face the first time he met you is my favorite memory of him. You are also too young to comprehend that although you drive grandma crazy from time to time, having you around helps her cope with your grandpa’s loss.

You don’t understand this yet, but you are a little different than the other kids and may have a few rough years ahead of you as you learn to adjust to things. Watching you adjust will be rough on Mommy and Daddy too, but remember we love you very much and will be there for you. We may not give you everything you want, but we will always have your back.

Happy Birthday, Little Man!

Daddy, can we go for ice cream?
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