college

I Am The 7%

Ever since losing my job back in August, 2014, I’ve been looking for a new job/identity*. At first, I looked for Art Director jobs. That’s was my old job, why not just do that again? The universe responded “Because” while I applied to dozens and dozens of places for months until I finally got it through my head I needed to move on. So, I poured myself into other things. I finished the book I was working on and submitted it to my literary agent. I doubled down on freelance graphic design and my online comic to generate a bit of cash. I designed a new religious symbol and started a business. I got a new, demanding calling at church. And, of course, I joined up with Tremendum Pictures to make movies. Just recently, I wrote and directed my first short film.

*Because, let’s face it, what’s the first thing you ask someone when you meet them? You ask about their job. Our occupations are inextricably linked to our identities as human beings. How do you talk to an unemployed or homeless person? The answer should be “Like everyone else,” but when you remove occupation from the equation you’re already handicapping the conversation right from the start.

But here’s the thing about all of that: none of what I do is a 9-to-5 job and none of it pays a whole heckuva lot right now. What I actually do with a big chunk of each and every day is completely unrelated to all my other pursuits. And it is the most important thing I do, period.

My wife went back to school this past semester to get her Master’s Degree in Communication. She’s an incredible public speaker, but more importantly she’s extremely talented at helping other adults become great public speakers. Her dream job is teaching them how to to do just that at the community college level, so, Master’s Degree. But here’s the thing about a Master’s Degree: it is a MASSIVE time suck. If Erin isn’t at school–which she always is–then she’s reading, or writing papers, or grading papers as part of being a TA, or meeting with professors, or etc. Most weeks, she makes cameo appearances in our lives, like a welcome guest star in a sitcom that everyone cheers when she walks through the door. Christmas Break was amazing; an extended guest stint where myself and our three girls got to remember what it was like when Mommy’s dressy pants weren’t permanently attached to her legs.

All of this is okay. It’s what we all signed up for and it’s temporary. In college, they tried to convince us that if we couldn’t handle the workload of all our classes then we weren’t ready for “the real world.” This was, of course, a lie. I’ve never been so busy as when I was in college. I was oppressively busy in college, same as Erin is now. This is temporary and, one day soon, Erin will just go to a job like a normal person and the hustle and bustle of College Round 2 will be over. All of this is okay.

This morning, Erin left for a weekend long conference. She won’t be back until Monday. It was at some point between saying goodbye to her after doing dropoffs with the kids and realizing I had better call the school about registering our youngest, Violet, for Kindergarten that I realized that, despite everything else I’ve got going on, I’ve got another identity altogether that I maybe haven’t been acknowledging.

I am a Stay-at-Home Dad. I am part of the 7% of American dads who stay home, with their kids, and parent while the mom goes off to do other things. I am the current, primary caregiver.

Photo on 2-26-16 at 4.05 PM #2 copy

Me and the only child I was able to wrangle for a photo, Violet.

This means I go to the doctor appointments. This means I do the dropoffs and pickups. This means I do the shopping. If the house is a mess, it’s my fault. If the kids don’t eat, it’s my fault. If Erin has to go to a conference for the weekend, I smile and see her on her way, knowing she doesn’t have any choice in the matter.

Being a Stay-at-Home Dad means all of that, but, for some reason, I don’t think I really realized that’s what I am until today. I’ve been pretty much doing all this since last August, but there’s something about realizing there’s a label attached to it that suddenly makes it different.

“Well, good,” I can hear a lot of you Stay-at-Hom Moms out there saying. “Now you know what it’s like for us!”

Well, yeah. But, to be fair to me… and I hate to disappoint you… but whatever else my faults may be (and they are legion), I like to think my batting average for not taking the work my wife has been doing all these years for granted is pretty good. I always, always, always thought her job was harder. And told her so, repeatedly. When I came home and the house was a mess? I said nothing. Why would I? How can anybody be expected to keep up with the house when there’s small gremlins running around it constantly, destroying it, and then demanding fruit snacks as a reward. What I do is a pretty poor imitation of her job, really. Erin and I both know that if the kids are going to eat anything other than fast food any given night then she’s gonna have to prepare something I can put in a crockpot. Tonight: Black Bean Cilantro Soup. Tomorrow: …probably pizza. She’s out of town, you see.

Already I can see some huge benefits to being a Stay-at-Home Dad. Every time I pick up Violet from preschool, she insists we run around a nearby tree together. That’s something we do together, just her and me. Cami, our middle daughter with special needs, greets me with squeals and hugs every afternoon when I pick her up. Elora, our oldest and newly christened teenager, depends on having some time with me every night so we can watch cool shows*. We talk a lot more now, too. I actually do know what’s going on her life, which is awesome.

* Currently: LOST, The Flash, Arrow, Legends of Tomorrow, Agent Carter, and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

So, anyway, I am a writer, a filmmaker, an entrepreneur, an artist, and the 7%. A Stay-at-Home Dad. Weird hats to be wearing all at once, for sure, but I’m going a bit bald now so hats are helpful. Even weird ones.

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Day 7 – Two Diplomas, No Jobs

On August 28th, my wife lost her job. 24 hours later, I lost mine. This blog is a continuation of the day-by-day chronicling of our emotional journey back to employment. This is bound to be upsetting, hilarious and hopeful.

The big news today is that I actually woke up with an appetite and ate breakfast for the first time in a week. I ate an actual bowl of cereal. With milk and everything. My stomach didn’t really know what to do with it.

Since Erin was out at the Dentist (we should probably figure out how to pay him) and running errands with Violet, I had most of the day to myself. I cranked up the stereo, disturbed the dogs and cat with a bit of living room dancing, and finished up Erin’s resume. Are you looking for an amazing video presenter who projects realness and warmth like a just opened oven? Look no further:

Erin’s Resume

After that was done, I went over to the church to do a little bit of clerical work. We don’t have any paid ministry in our church, so work like that falls to the rank and file, which is everyone. It just happens to be my turn to do that sort of thing right now, which means somebody made a grave mistake. I know exactly two places to file documents: 1. Where I will never remember I put them there, and 2. In the trash. The only reason you’d have me record data and file papers is if you can’t afford a shredder.

When I came home from the church, Erin was already there and had a surprise for me: our college diplomas, framed on the giant empty wall in our bedroom.

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I’ve been carrying my diploma around in my work bag for ten years. For most of that time, I didn’t even know it was there (Filing place #1). Not really sure why I put it there in  the first place, but my guess is I didn’t know where else to stick it and I didn’t really care. I never wanted to go to college. Didn’t see the value, sounded boring.

Once I got my diploma, I felt almost no sense of accomplishment. College was just this thing I did because I didn’t know what else do with my life and Marvel and DC Comics weren’t exactly knocking down my door. Erin really pushed me hard during that time. I probably wouldn’t have graduated without her. My 37-year-old self kind of wants to smack my 26-year-old self upside the head for being an idiot, but at least he finished it.

I’m not sure how Erin’s mom got it out of my work bag, but she has my thanks for this gift of a daily reminder that, no matter our present circumstance, Erin and I are pretty capable after all. Maybe somebody with some money will agree with that soon.

* * *

Bunch of friends came over to play games once again tonight. I don’t know if they know how useful the distraction is or not, but I’m grateful for it. They stayed until 3am. Tonight also marked the first time someone made jokes about my lack of job. Everyone laughed, at my expense. I guess we’ve crossed a new threshold there. Probably a good thing.

11 Things I Wish I’d Known When I Was 20

Me, circa 20. That's a monsoon behind me. How appropriate.

In no particular order:

1. All Your Wildest Dreams Will Come True (And Some You’re Not Wild Enough to Guess At Yet)

A lot of what you desire you don’t have to worry so much about. Stuff is either gonna work itself out or you’re gonna figure it out. Either way, don’t be afraid to hope. You’ll be rewarded.

That said, dream bigger, dude. Don’t limit yourself by what you think you can do now. You can do a lot more. You will do a lot more.

2. All of Your Worst Nightmares Will Come True (And Some You’re Too Scared to Even Imagine) 

No, not the one about your parents with baby bodies and football helmets. And not the one about the giant evil face outside your bedroom window that tells you no one loves you.  I’m talking about the tough stuff ahead that will pound away at your faith and confidence and people you love until you beg the cup away from you.

You’re not going to be able to avoid that stuff and, once it gets here, it’s not going to go away. You’re an adult now. Things last.

But you’re going to be okay.

3. You Will Get Married

No, your ability to attract and flirt with a woman will never improve (sorry), but when you find the right one it won’t matter. So stop worrying so much about it. Your insecurity is your least attractive quality.

What’s that? Yeah, she’s pretty. Geez, man, there are other things that are way more important. But yes, she’s gorgeous. Calm down.

The helmet kind of takes away from what I'm trying to achieve here.

4. Don’t Stop Writing in Your Journals

Don’t make the same mistake I did. You write every day in your journal and that’s excellent. Just. Don’t. Stop. Your life will disappear if you don’t make a record. Your memory isn’t as good as you think it is.

5. Learn Now to Slow Down Your Anger

Little girls really freak out when you are quick to anger. You and your wife will raise at least three of them. You’re not going to abuse them or anything, but unless you want to feel like the worst human being ever on a regular basis, learn now how to count to ten.

6. Loosen Up

Your uptight attitude and tendency to look at your watch every few minutes puts people off. Toss the watch, loosen the tie. Yeah, I know you’re a missionary, but even now there are people you’re not reaching because they think you don’t care about them. They think you care about the trains running on time.

Life’s not all about the trains, man.

It's not so much that I was small. That was just a very big dryer.

7. At Some Point After You Hit 30 You Will Begin to Lose Your Hair

Don’t stress. That just makes it worse.

8. You Need a College Degree

Stop fighting this and the next few years will be a lot easier for you. You’re going back to school and that’s final. I promise the degree will come to mean a great deal to you. No, it’s not gonna seem that way for a really, REALLY long time, but if you don’t go you will lose some amazing opportunities–not the least of which is meeting your future wife.

9. Get Some Apple Stock

I don’t care how bad off the company looks at the moment or how you get the money, invest now and as much as possible.

Oh, and never buy first generation.

10. When Something is Happening You Know is Not Right, Speak Up

Some of your biggest regrets will come because you didn’t say something when you should have. I know, hard to imagine a loudmouth like you shutting up about anything, but it will happen. Use good judgment and don’t be a jerk about it, but don’t be so afraid to offend that you hold back when you should be standing up for your friends and what is right.

My 21st Birthday Party. I'm the super cool one in the suspenders.

11. Don’t Read This List

Too late, I know, but I don’t really want you to change anything (mostly). I’m not perfect, but I’m the result of all the good things you will do AND all the mistakes you’re about to make. I don’t want to risk losing anyone or anything.

Also, you’re a world class second guesser. You’re never gonna be able to interpret any of this advice correctly.

What would you say to your 20-year-old self? Would you say anything at all? Are you 20 now? In that case, bask in my wisdom.

(By the way, I completely stole the idea for this post from the great writer and blogger Shelli Johnson. You should go read her version now.)

I’m Not in College, I Just Sleep That Way

Sleep is precious to me. I’m an insomniac so when my eyes are shut and the world fades away, that’s a sacred time. I’m of a generally pleasant disposition, but if you wake me before it’s time to get up, I will rip your head off and stuff it down a toilet. Then I’ll go back to bed. I’ll feel bad about it in the morning, when I’m well-rested.

Early on in my marriage, this was a big problem. My wife made the mistake of waking me up one night and I couldn’t get back to sleep. I got so angry and frustrated, I got up on top of the covers and started pounding the bed like a gorilla. We had a talk the next morning and it was decided I had sleep anger issues. I’m much better now.

In college, I started going to bed at 1 – 2am. This was fantastic. I was working two jobs and taking a full load of classes and dating/marrying/having a baby. Late nights allowed me to get homework done, watch movies and play video games. Then I’d sleep for five hours and be out the door to work and/or school by 8am that morning. I didn’t drink caffeine, I didn’t take pills. That junk is for wimps.

Now that I’m not in college? No change. I turn 35 in January and this is still the schedule that works best for me. You know why? Solid sleep. If I try to sleep for 8 hours, it’s in fits and starts. But when I go to bed exhausted? It’s solid. I wake up refreshed. Just don’t bother me before the alarm rings. You will be missing vital organs if you do.

My wife is the opposite. She’s usually out by 9:30 or 10:00. This gives me about three or four hours a night when I’m on my own. After college, I was happy to use that time to watch even more movies and play even more video games. But somewhere along the line I realized that all that extra time was good for something and I was wasting it. That’s how SuperFogeys and other various projects were born. Now, I spend most of my time at night writing. Usually until I pass out on my laptop. It’s fantastic. I actually feel a little guilty on those rare occasions when I watch a movie instead.

What about you? What time do you go to bed? Have your sleep patterns changed as you’ve gotten older? Do you conk out at 8:30 like a punk? Sound off below!