parenting

She Told Me My Family Was Afraid of Me

BrockFace

Last week, Erin sat me down on the swing at our back patio and we had a “come to Jesus” moment. She, like a good spouse, chose not the heat of the moment, but a time separated by hours from my increasingly ill behavior. She gave it to me straight: I’m angry all the time, I’m on a hair trigger, the kids are afraid of me, and I’ve made the house an extremely unpleasant place to live in–to the point that sometimes she takes the long way home from dropping our oldest off at junior high just to avoid the scene that ensues daily when I berate our youngest for not knowing where her shoes are and making us late for her preschool.

It was a huge gut punch. I couldn’t remember the last time I felt so small and low. I’m not a crier, but I started to cry then because I had no defense to give. Erin was 100% right. I was making our home a miserable place. Worse, I kind of knew I was doing it. She wasn’t telling me anything I didn’t know, but I think, in the back of my mind, I had somehow convinced myself I was okay to be this way because a) pressures and b) no one was saying anything about it.

Well, of course they weren’t. They were rightfully afraid to talk to me.

The bulk of our conversation that night dealt with why I was behaving this way. I don’t want to go too deep into that, but suffice it to say that I’m not great at being a stay-at-home dad (Erin kindly reminded me it took her years to be any good at being a stay-at-home mom) and the external pressures that come from work and achievement and failure were getting to me. Or rather, I was letting them get to me. I actually thought that since things were so hard for me right now that it was okay for me to be a bit of a jerk. It was justified.

Which, of course, I was not. I was operating from an incredibly unkind, selfish place, especially since Erin has been working on her Master’s Degree for the past year, a work that requires you to stand on your head and recite the Constitution backwards while cats lick milk off the bottom of your feet. Or something. It’s hard, that’s all I know. I was making things even harder.

My wife had popped my delusional bubble. I recognized my behavior as the sort of thing that would slowly force my family to retreat from me, which, of course, they kind of were doing already. I needed to dial things back in a big way. So, I told Erin the most cliched thing a person can possibly say in a moment like that: I will change. I could tell she didn’t exactly believe me.

The thing is, I meant it. 100%. (This is a common thing: I tend to apologize and change my mind very quickly. If I can see the logic of something, it’s very rare that I wait for my emotions to catch up.) I was sick of myself. I was sick of being angry and I was sick about what I was doing to my girls and my wife. I had hurt them. Not physically, but I had hurt them. I needed to not just turn the truck around, I needed to throw that sucker in reverse and floor the gas pedal until this big heap of selfish garbage I had built up was just a speck through the windshield.

I made a decision to stop letting my emotions–particularly the rage-filled ones–take over. The benefit just wasn’t there. I was able to do this for one, simple reason: my family’s emotions and perception of me is more important than my need to vent or act out frustration. I needed to sacrifice that release of anger on the altar of their precious feelings to give them a chance to like me again, and to not damage them or my relationship with them. 

Basically, even though nothing really changed about my circumstances, I made a conscious effort to let go of my anger over it all.

That has not been terribly easy, but it has been terribly worth it. I’ve gone six days without a blow-up and the spirit in our house is radically different. I think, as fathers, we underestimate our impact. I know society does. But I’ve gotten a crash course in just how much I matter to my family, and how invested they are in my spiritual and mental wellbeing. Everything is different around here now, which illustrates quite clearly that I was almost entirely responsible for the tension in our home over the past couple months. It’s a sobering realization.

I had never thought of myself as a bad father. I honestly didn’t think I was capable. I thought if there’s one thing I can do well, it’s be a father. People have even told me, in the recent past, that I am a good father. I hoped I was worthy of that. I kind of thought I was. But, I was wrong.

I’m sure there’s someone out there for whom their progression is a nice straight line that reaches continually upward, but for me it’s a rocky thing, filled with peaks and valleys. Just when I think I’ve got one thing licked, some other issue pops up and takes the wind out of my sails. This all crept up on me, and none of it fit my perception of myself. I’m still learning all the time, even as I approach 40, who I am and what I’m capable of, for good and for ill.

My prayer–and this is always my prayer–is that whatever my moment-to-moment progression is, the trend, at least, is upwards. I feel better today than I have in a long, long while. There’s still a ton of stuff I need to work on, but, in simply letting go of the justifications and the outsized emotions that have been holding me back in those most important of roles, father and husband, I feel like I grabbed hold of a valuable piece of the happiness puzzle this week.

Pretty sure my girls and my wife would agree.

Stop Calling My Daughter a Slut

GirlBack

Dear Men of the Internet,

Stop calling my daughter a slut.

A few weeks ago I wrote a blog entitled “Stop Talking About My Daughter’s Butt” as a letter to the “Boys of the World” kindly requesting that they stop trying to give my daughter body image issues by commenting on, among other things, her butt. ForEveryMom.com picked it up, but you probably read it over the weekend because when the Independent Journal Review picked it up and re-published it, it went viral.

You also had a lot to say about it. So, let’s talk. You go first.

Technically, all these comments are public record and there shouldn’t be anything wrong with me showing you the names and faces of these people, but I’ve covered them up anyway so as not to focus on the wrong thing. It doesn’t matter who said this stuff. What matters is that they were said.

“This will change nothing and help no one”

Maybe! But let’s give it a shot anyway. Can’t hurt to try.

“…As a man and used to be boy this Dad knows full well that at one time his life he probably did and said some of the same things these boys he talks about says and does… maybe you should go out and buy her clothes that’s a little too big so these boys you talk can’t see what your little girl’s body looks like. Remember the old saying Dad boys will be boys.”

First of all, me trying to buy my daughter clothes is a non-starter. I don’t even know her size.

Second of all, I’ve always hated the phrase “Boys will be boys.” It’s simply not true. When I was a boy, I didn’t make inappropriate comments towards girls about their bodies. I just didn’t do it. And if I didn’t do it and other boys didn’t do it (trust me, I wasn’t alone), then this isn’t a boys-will-be-boys situation. It’s a misogynistic-jerkfaces-will-be-misogynistic-jerkfaces situation. It’s a learned behavior.

The cool thing is that a Misogynistic Jerkface can change and become something else. He can stop saying stupid stuff and become a man.

“Wonderful, another whiner that doesn’t like something that someone did… Tell her to get over it… Where is the picture of this girl? Is there something wrong or is there something right?”

I humbly submit I wasn’t whining. A lot of you also accused me of being offended. Honestly, I don’t really get offended. Taking offense is a waste of time. I identified a problem and suggested that it should be corrected. Isn’t that a good thing? It’s certainly not whining.

Wait, I just read that back… are you saying you want to see a picture of my daughter’s butt?

Screen Shot 2016-05-02 at 9.56.58 AM

“Butt, where’s the photo?”

You are asking to see a picture of my daughter’s butt. This is so weird.

“Well? Where’s the picture of her butt?”

Guys! She’s 13! Do you even think about this stuff before you type it?

“I can only imagine she is probably dressing provocatively.”

Why is that? Why is that my daughter dressed provocatively the only thing you can imagine as the reason for the boys’ comments? My wife had a great response to this. Let’s remember together:

“…actually she dresses extremely modestly. What is most concerning is that… people like you suggest it must be her fault this is why we have a rape culture.”

She makes a good point. Why isn’t the automatic go-to when unthinking boys spit out their garbage words, “I can only imagine those boys are rude and haven’t been taught proper respect for the opposite gender”? No, instead the Men of the Internet blame the girl. In the past couple of days, there have been lots of these comments directly blaming my daughter. For something boys did. This happens with nothing else.

“Sorry, officer, I was driving just fine until that cat jumped over that bush. I was so surprised, I swerved into oncoming traffic. Stupid cat, right? C’mon, let’s go find her together and arrest her!”

Screen Shot 2016-05-02 at 9.55.09 AM

“We do not have a rape culture, that is a myth.”

Y’know, honestly, I used to think rape culture was a myth, too. Then I posted a blog asking boys to stop talking about my daughter’s butt and you guys showed me I was very, very wrong.* It was like Nessie held a press conference only to tell us she’s not real.

Look, I still hate the term “rape culture.” It’s incendiary and off-putting (but then, so is rape). I keep thinking there’s got to be a better term for it, but it is a real thing–it’s this idea that how we talk about women has real consequences. Here’s one, partial definition:

In a rape culture, women perceive a continuum of threatened violence that ranges from sexual remarks to sexual touching to rape itself. A rape culture condones physical and emotional terrorism against women as the norm . . .

In other words, violence against women starts with stuff like “Boys will be boys.” When you normalize inappropriate behavior as inevitable, you create an environment where people aren’t as responsible for that behavior–and that leads to more bad behavior. If a Junior High boy feels bold enough to cuss at my daughter and comment on her butt, if he isn’t stopped and corrected, where does that lead? Maybe he’ll grow out of it, but maybe that’s the beginning of a path that leads to rape. No one wakes up one day and says, “I think I will rape today.” But a violent disposition towards women starts somewhere. It starts with a dismissive and unsympathetic attitude towards women’s feeling and experiences that places the responsibility for bad behavior towards women on the women themselves.

Did that sound convoluted? That’s because it is.

“…Girls wear very little during the summer, use profane language…have sex/drug parties. It’s no wonder young boys think it’s perfectly alright to appraise a girls butt and anything else.”

I love the world that’s being painted here. So, basically, the Earth would be full of virtuous, righteous boys if it weren’t for the sexy, decadent girls making it so hard to not talk about their butts?

Look, do I think girls should dress modestly and that the sexualization of even the youngest girls is a problem? Of course I do! Do I think that absolves boys of bad behavior? No. That’s like saying my little brother took my toy away so I had to hit him. That’s baby reasoning.

Men of the Internet, your logic is that of a toddler.

“So, you never looked at a girls butt? Tell your slut daughter not to wear clothing that accentuates her butt whether it is a good one or a bad one. Out of sight is out of mind to a hormone raging boy.”

So much to unpack here. Let’s break out the numbers.

  1. I have looked at girls’ butts. You got me. I’m a heterosexual male and attraction leads me to appreciate the female form. However, I do make an effort to control my thoughts. In controlling my thoughts, I control my actions and, amazingly, I manage to not tell women what I think of their butts. I know, I know. It’s like, what? How do I do it?  I’m a freakin’ unicorn, that’s how. (Except I’m not. I just respect women, like so many other guys who would never think of calling a woman a “slut.” Speaking of which…)
  2. Straight up, you owe my daughter an apology. You don’t call any woman a slut. You don’t do it. It’s matter of respect. Men of the Internet, you messed up today. Big time.
  3. No girl who works so hard to find shorts that extend to her knees can ever be accused of wearing clothing that accentuates her butt. You have no idea who you’re talking about. You have no idea what my wife and I have taught our daughter.
  4. I’ll grant you that immodest clothing makes it difficult to keep thoughts pure, but out of sight is not out of mind. A hormone raging boy has a pretty good imagination.

I want to thank you, Men of the Internet. You’ve really opened my eyes. Rape culture is a real thing. Not a great name, but a real thing.

You’re so willing to give the boys the benefit of the doubt that you’ll characterize my modestly dressed daughter as “provocative” and a “slut” with zero evidence. Literally, all you knew about her from what I wrote was that she’s 13 and she told me what some boys said about her body. All you know about the boys is that they made some inappropriate remarks. How are they the automatic good guys in this scenario?

Do you get it? Do you see that the way women dress is not what this is about? It’s about how men choose to treat women, full stop. Women don’t make men treat them badly. That’s so asinine.

I think all this defending of the boys and all this demonizing and shaming of my daughter and girls in general comes down to this: you recognize yourselves and you feel attacked. Who are the boys who said these things to my daughter going to grow up to be? They’re going to grow up to be you. I’m talking about you and you don’t like it.

So, you strike back. And who’s your target? Why, the girls of course. That’s who you know to blame.

The anger boggles my mind.Why is the idea that we place more value on the feelings of our girls than the whims of boys with big mouths so offensive to you? What is it about what I’m saying that you’re really so upset about? I’m not a Progressive or a Social Justice Warrior or anything else you accused me of this past weekend. I’m a conservative Mormon dad who was raised with no sisters in a house where gun control was the devil’s program designed to take away our freedoms.

“This should stop something which has been going on since the dawn of time.”

You say this has been going on forever and it will never stop. Well, I think you’re probably right. As long as the perpetrators of this behavior–you–do nothing to teach your sons better, it will keep going.

But that doesn’t mean I’m wasting my time with these letters. Just because you’re not listening, doesn’t mean no one is listening. I’ve heard from a couple people already who were inspired to sit down with their sons to have a heart-to-heart and I’m told it went well. That’s some kids right there, changed.

Men of the Internet, I would like to humbly suggest that a heart-to-heart with your sons is what is needed. Even an immodestly dressed young woman is still, completely and thoroughly, a daughter of God. She has His love. She deserves your respect. If you’re not teaching your sons about these things, chances are, to one degree or another, she’s not getting that respect.

Whatever you decide to do, can you at least do this much for me?

Stop calling my daughter a slut.

Because that word is just the worst. Seriously.

Thanks,

Some Girl’s Dad

*Well done! You’ve probably given some Women’s Studies major just what she needed to complete her thesis.

How to Not Deal Appropriately with a Slow Eater

Violet loves to eat slowly. Scratch that, she loves to talk, jump around on her chair, change her shoes, give hugs to her sisters, sing Adele’s “Hello,” twirl, walk our dog Batman on a leash around the house, talk, jump on the furniture, lose her tiny glasses, go to the bathroom, talk, draw on our chalk table, tell me all about Jesus, talk, ask for drinks of water, talk, and talk–all between bites.

You’ve never seen a tiny bowl of Apples and Cinnamon oatmeal* endure so long on a table with a spoon in it. Quite often, it ceases to be breakfast and turns into an fossilized artifact of some long, lost civilization where people went hungry because Jake and the Neverland Pirates was on TV.

*Which, in her defense, is kind of gross.

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The remains of this morning’s breakfast. She simply ran out of time.

I, of course, handle this terribly. I often remind Violet of external pressures that might lead her to feel a bit more inspired to get a move on–like time. I say things like, “We have to leave in five minutes or we’ll be late for school.” Since five-year-olds have no concept of time whatsoever, she pretends to take this very seriously and then proceeds to chase our dogs around the living room with a lightsaber.

Another tactic I sometimes use is to tell her how truly great that oatmeal is. It’s SO delicious. If she doesn’t get to it quick, I’m going to eat it. This has literally never worked.

Other times–less prouder moments–I try to intimidate Violet. I tell her how upset I am. I sigh loudly. I even hit the table for emphasis on the word “GOT.” As in, “You’ve GOT to eat. Please, please, PLEASE, eat!!” This also never works. What usually happens–because I’m a 5’10” man and she’s a sub 4′ little girl–is that she starts doing that frozen, shaking thing. Her big eyes look into mine and she doesn’t know what to do. My heightened frustration is intimidating to her, and it incapacitates her.

Technically, Violet does chew at an appropriate speed. I’ve seen food go into her mouth and within what seems like a suitable amount of time it does appear to go down her throat. (I swear it happens, but don’t ask me for proof. Violet eating is like Sasquatch running through a forest–we all know it happens, but the camera lens refuses it.)

What finally seems to work is to tell Violet how many bites she has left and then let her count them out. There’s something about that limit–that boundary she can operate within–that gives her enough calm and comfort to proceed to eat like a human girl and not a caffeinated monkey bouncing all over the house. She likes knowing when it will end instead of being overwhelmed by what to her is a mountain of food. It doesn’t even matter how many bites I tell her she has to eat–I could say three bites or five or ten and I could even even say they have to be big bites–she’ll eat every last one of them with a speed on the human side of the Human-Sloth Scale, and then she’s done. And we get to school on time.

I don’t know why I’m so slow to remember this tactic each and every time Violet sits down for a meal. It probably has something to do with the fact that I want Violet to eat appropriately in the first place, and not through trickery. But trickery is Parenting 101. I should know this–I should remember this. Violet is hardly my first slow eater. Watching my oldest inhale food now like she’s been learning at the feet of our vacuum should give me a bit more patience and faith.

I’m working on it. Violet is working on it. We’ll get there. In the meantime, I’m gonna buy better tasting oatmeal.

Stop Talking About My Daughter’s Butt

To all the Boys of the World:

Stop talking about my daughter’s butt.

Back of a zebra

Look, a good blog has photos, but I’m not showing you butt pictures. Not human ones, anyway. This is a zebra butt.

When my 13-year-old gets in the car after school and I ask her how her day went, there are certain things I expect to hear. A brief sample:

“Fine.”

“Good.”

“The test was hard.”

“I got my report card back and I’m not ashamed to show it to you.”

“I have sooooo much homework. Can we get Slurpees?”

What I don’t expect to hear–what I don’t want to hear is that she got made fun of in first period for her clothing choices and that in second period she got “catcalled.”

“What do you mean ‘catcalled?'” I asked her just today. “What did they say to you?”

“They cussed at me,” she said. “Something about my butt.”

“Your butt?”

“Yeah.”

“Was it positive or negative?” (This doesn’t matter. I asked in the futile hope for a silver lining.)

“I… I don’t even know. For some reason, people like to talk about my body.”

This is a ladybug butt. Cute, right?

This is a ladybug butt.

Make no mistake here, “people” is (mostly*) “boys.” This isn’t the first time something like this has happened as these reports are growing all too familiar. My daughter has heard assorted, sordid opinions on the relative attractiveness of everything from her hair to her knees (yes, knees). And who knows what else. It’s not like talking to her dad about this stuff is the most fun thing in the world. I usually have to drag it out of her.

My wife and I are doing our darndest to raise a daughter with a positive body image. We kind of have to, and we all know why. From magazine covers to Kim Kardashian Instagram photos to pornography (and I realize I may have just written ‘pornography’ three times), it’s almost impossible to not have an unrealistic view of what women should look like. It’s a lot of work combatting all that garbage–and it’s important we do. We’d rather our daughter not have, say, eating issues or think badly of herself for entirely superficial reasons that don’t have one single, solitary, stupid thing to do with who she is as a person. Boys of the World, would you please stop trying to screw up our efforts?

This is a butt hinge.

This is a butt hinge.

When you say my daughter’s knees look like “baby faces” (they don’t–and what does that even mean? I guess if you’re an 8th Grade boy it’s a bad thing) or that her butt is too whatever (it isn’t), you’re not only being disrespectful to her (which I know you don’t care about), but you’re messing with her mind. You’re shaping what she thinks of herself–digging at the most obvious, surface level part of herself that she has, for the most part, no control over–and you’re telling her what a woman should REALLY look like. I guarantee that whatever image you’ve conjured up in your still-developing brain is pretty dang unrealistic. Unattainable, even. And that’s dangerous.

Do you know what a woman should look like? It’s so simple, I’ll tell you in three words: However. She. Looks.

You, Boys of the World, are not entitled to an opinion on the subject. Not one you can voice, certainly. You don’t get to contaminate my daughter’s mind with your girl-of-the-month ideas. As stupid as those ideas are, they stick around. They infect. Luckily, my daughter is one of the most self-assured people I’ve ever met. When I asked her if any of these garbage opinions bother her she said, “No, not really.” She’s strong like that. But I wonder… as she gets older and starts dating and going to dances and living more in the world… I wonder if these comments won’t come back to haunt her. And I wonder about girls who aren’t like her who are dealing with insecurities or struggling with their weight or who don’t have parents working as hard to build them up when others seem to only want to tear them down.

This is a cigarette butt.

This is a cigarette butt.

This is such a uniquely feminine problem. Exactly two comments were made to me about my appearance in high school and I’ve never forgotten them. My daughter gets more than that in one day.

Look, I get it. I was in Junior High and High School once, too. I was obsessed with girls and their bodies. It’s what happens. But I remember also having a healthy fear of girls and a sense that I had to be, y’know, decent towards them. All my friends did. Did something change, or did I run with a gentler crowd?

Either way, who cares? You’re commenting on girls’ bodies and it’s not okay. Any specific comment–good or bad–my advice is to just stay away from all of that. You’re not equipped, Boys of the World. You’ve got no idea how to do it appropriately. You want to know the first time you can actually comment on a girl’s appearance, safely? I’ll tell you. It’s when you pick her up for a date, and here’s what you say:

“You look nice.”

That’s it. That’s your how-to manual for not being a misogynistic jerkface.

This is a butte.

This is a butte.

And, just in case you think you’re getting away with it, I’d like you to know I know who you are. You’re the unthinking punk and the meathead jock, sure, but you’re also the boy in my daughter’s Sunday School class who runs with the wrong crowd, and the kid at school who has a crush on her and doesn’t know to express it. You’re the class clown who makes everything into a joke and goes too far. You’re the nice boy who just doesn’t know better.

I invite you to know better. I invite you to value the feelings and long term self worth of one of God’s daughters over the laughter of your friends. There’s no reason you have to continue on like this, Boys of the World. I’ll grant you’re still learning. That’s cool. Consider this a small lesson from me to you:

Stop talking about my daughter’s butt.

Thanks,

Some Girl’s Dad

*Shout-out to the Girls of the World: stop talking about my daughter’s thighs. (That’s a whole ‘nother blog.)

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.

Congratulations on Your Super Healthy Kid

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Detail from “Vaccines Work: Here are the Facts” by Maki Naro

I am not a scientist.

I say that to get it out of the way and let you know up front what sort of blog is this is going to be. There are plenty of articles and blogs out there that provide ample research and reasoning in support of vaccinations. The comic I’ve excerpted to the left is a great primer and is fun to read to boot. It gives a basic rundown of the objections raised by the anti-vaccination crowd and answers them in the best format for communicating ideas man has yet created (yeah, that’s right). If you’re looking for something more detailed, this exhaustively hyperlinked blog has basically done all the work for you. The point of both the comic and blog is this: vaccinations are good and believing otherwise is not a good idea.

You want to debate the science? Go check out the above links. I’m gonna approach this topic the only way I know how: as a parent.

* * *

If you’ll allow me, I’d like to sum up the entire vaccinations issue with one sentence: You don’t mess with Disneyland.

Wait. Let me add periods for emphasis:

You. Don’t. Mess. With. Disney. Land.

It’s no wonder the internet exploded with rage when kids with measles started pouring out of Disneyland. What’s happened since is a collective freakout the likes of which we only see once in a young, blue pop star. Because you don’t mess with Disneyland. It’s the happiest place on Earth. You’re supposed to come back with a Mickey Mouse balloon, not a fatal disease.*

I think we’ve all been more or less content to go along with the existence of the anti-vaccination crowd and not bother with them too much for this long because, until now, they never stopped anyone from going on Space Mountain. Now, they have. Now, we’ve got our Hannibal Buress moment. There’s a new spotlight on the issue and it’s bright.

I hate even bringing this up. Not only do I have family on the other side of it, but I’m very much a “let people decide for themselves” kind of person. I respect a person’s right to conduct their family affairs and raise their kids how they want. I believe in choice. I believe in agency.

But I guess I don’t believe in my kids dying.

Whoa, whoa, whoa. “Dying?” Man, what a jump and a mighty gun that is. That kind of language is just inflammatory. I mean, there’s sick and there’s death. One doesn’t always–or even usually–follow the other and lots of kids have had measles through the years and not died from it. Tons of them just get brain damage or go deaf. Sheesh.

While that may be true, for my middle daughter Cami and for a lot of kids just like her, certain sicknesses–sicknesses like the ones (hopefully not still) in residence at Sleeping Beauty’s Castle and preventable by vaccinations–are a likely death sentence.

So you can imagine my joy a couple months ago when she got a bad case of Whooping Cough that quickly developed into pneumonia. There was a time when we made a yearly visit to the hospital to get Cami the proper care for an annual battle with pneumonia. How fondly I remember holding her weak little hand while she did her best to breathe through her wheezing. Last month, it was with the greatest of nostalgia that I looked forward to (not) sleeping on the ER floor and subsisting on a diet of vending machine crackers while wondering if my daughter would live through the night.

Thankfully, it didn’t come to that. Being old pros at this, my wife and I got Cami in to her doctor within hours of the pneumonia symptoms showing up and righted that ship in time enough for her to not be admitted.

“But wait,” I don’t hear you saying. “That all started with Whooping Cough? Maybe I need to go back and read this blog again. Aren’t you advocating for vaccinations? How did Cami get Whooping Cough in the first place if she’s current on her vaccinations?”

Great question. Well done. How did Cami get Whooping Cough?

As a child with special needs, Cami has a lot of challenges in life. One of the challenges my wife and I have to pay special attention to is her weak immune system. Some people forget about kids like Cami when they say things like “Theoretically the only people who should be getting the measles are those who are not vaccinated.”** Even setting aside the issue of children who are not eligible for the MMR and other vaccinations due to cancer or age (but who are still very much susceptible to the measles, et al), and herd immunity and the accumulative wrongness of too many people making what they think is a purely “personal” decision at the same time, it is simply gross ignorance to assume that vaccines are 100% preventative. They’re not.

Cami was vaccinated against Whooping Cough and she still got it because she’s weak and it was around to get. That’s it. This disease that was on its way out is roaring its way back and mowing down kids like Cami in its path. We were fortunate in that the only bad things to come out of her bout with Whooping Cough were a short case of pneumonia and a persistent, violent cough that will probably be sticking around for another four or five months. I can even hear the cough waking her up in her bedroom right now as I’m typing this late at night.

Cami was vaccinated but some kid or kids around her were not, so she got Whooping Cough. My wife and I have now been shoved kicking and screaming into a whole new era of parenting: Cami’s pediatrician is advising us to keep her away from all children who have not been properly vaccinated.

If that sounds impossible to you then you’re sane.

In trying to deal with this new paradigm, we sent out an email to our extended family to ask for their assistance in keeping Cami safe. Here’s an excerpt:

We do not intend to offend with this email, but if you choose to not vaccinate that puts us in the position of also having to make a choice.

Obviously, the only sure way to keep Cami safe is to put her in a bubble and hide her from the world. That’s kind of ridiculous. However, if we know Cami is headed into a situation where adults or children are present who have not been vaccinated, then we will act on that knowledge, and when we don’t know and can’t know—at school and the grocery store for example—we will proceed just as we always have.

We admittedly don’t know what all of the far-reaching implications of this policy might be. We’re doing our best over here to deal with what’s been handed to us.

All we really know is that we’ve got to do what we can. This is our sacrifice to make, so if any of you will be attending a family function who might be a risk to Cami, we are not asking you to stay home. We will keep Cami home.

A calm, reasonable person wrote that email. We weren’t trying to berate anyone or force them to do anything other than what they felt best, we just wanted to protect Cami. That was our only motivation.

But I’ll be honest with you and admit I find it increasingly more difficult to keep a cool head on this issue. I respect everyone’s right to choose, but I find myself wondering if, on this matter, I really should. Where does your right to choose end and my child’s right to live begin?

I’m far from the only one wrestling with this. One father in Tiburon, CA has already made his mind up about it. He wants to take the choice away from the parents in his school district for the sake of his son with leukemia. Is he a good dad or a villain?

And what does it mean when the LDS (Mormon) Church (a religious organization that cites personal agency as one of the basic tenets of its faith) implores its members to get properly immunized and actively assists in efforts to immunize the world? 

Not to be inflammatory (but, let’s face it, that’s totally what I’m about to do), but how much difference is there, really, between driving drunk and choosing to not vaccinate? In both instances you’re talking about a “personal” choice that could result in negative, life or death consequences for the individual or those around them… or not. It’s the “or not” part that empowers the inebriated the world over to climb into two ton vehicles and clumsily weaponize them on the open road (the alcohol helps, too). If you don’t vaccinate your kids, I can’t help but want to protect my child from your drunk driving.

See, my child is Disneyland. She got Whooping Cough and was fortunate enough to not get measles (so far), but she’s my Disneyland.

And you don’t mess with my Disneyland.

Bottom line: if you’re going around thinking everything is fine and all of this worry is for nothing because vaccines are evil and your kid is fine and can run and play just fine and your decision to not vaccinate only affects you and your child anyway, I’m sorry, but that’s simply not the case. There’s a lot of kids out there who are not as strong as all that. And there’s going to be more every day if you keep not vaccinating.

But, hey, congrats on having super healthy kids. I truly hope they stay that way.

*If I was a Disneyland cast member, I’d be ticked. Do you know how hard they work to keep that place clean and disease free? I swear if you drop a piece of trash there it disappears into another dimension or something before it hits the ground. You could eat pizza off those sidewalks. (But not the pizza in Tomorrowland. That stuff is gross. Sorry, Mickey.)

**Actual quote from a recent discussion on Facebook.