Sunday, December 23, 2012

The True Meaning of Christmas

So, here's the story.

Every year, the elementary school which each of my three childen have attended holds a PTA fundraiser called, "Breakfast with Santa." (Actually, the name has changed for political correctness reasons to "Winter Festival" or "Winter Breakfast" or something else much less catchy.) Like we had in most previous years, we attended. However, last year we had an extra motivation. My favorite photographer had volunteered to take the Santa pictures.

While The First Beautiful Daughter, The Favorite Son, and I prepared ourselves for our big moment with Jolly Ol' St. Nick, The Second Beautiful Daughter had a little trouble finding her holiday spirit. When it was our turn to sit with the man in red, Kathie Austin snapped a couple of pictures.

Because of my special access to Ms. Austin, I occasionally see some of her images before she shows them to the client and publishes. With our pictures, though, she was a little apprehensive for fear of my reaction. She had no reason for concern. In the spirit of Clark W. Griswold in National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation, when I saw our family photo, I just laughed.

Photo Credit: Kathie Austin Photography

At first, The Second Beautiful Daughter (seated, obviously, lower right) was embarassed about the picture. Soon, however, she changed her mind and joined in the fun. In fact, because The Second Beautiful Daughter knew I enjoyed this little family adventure so much and because the picture was, well, so damned funny, she had a print made and framed. She gave it to me as a Father's Day gift this past June. The framed photo now sits on a shelf next to our family room fireplace and reminds me of that Breakfast with Santa and not everything has to be perfect to enjoy our time together.

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“Aren’t we forgetting the true meaning of Christmas? You know, the birth of Santa."
— Bart Simpson

While I know many readers of The Single Father's Guide Blog have other holiday traditions or, perhaps, none at all, my family's tradition is the celebration of Christmas. So, from my family to yours, Merry Christmas and best wishes for a healthy and prosperous 2013.

Friday, December 21, 2012

How Murray Saved Christmas: Hilarious!

I cannot believe I've missed this one. Published in 2000 by Price Stern Sloan, illustrated by award-winning editorial cartoonist David Catrow, and written by Harvard Lampoon and "The Simpson's" writer Mike Reiss, How Murray Saved Christmas is hilarious.

Written in the style of "Twas The Night Before Christmas," Murray is the proprietor of a Jewish diner. After a devilish little elf named Edison plays a practical joke that results in Jolly Ol' St. Nick getting knocked-out cold, it's up to Murray to save the holiday. Understandably, Murray is suspicious about the undertaking when Edison explains the predicament, "I can make you Whatever you wish. A nice piece of fish. Or a spinach knish."

Murray needs more convincing:

"Give me one reason to schlep through the snow,
Bringing billions of presents to kids I don't know.
Will anyone pay me? Will anyone tip?
What if I slip and fracture my hip?"

Eventually, Edison persuades Murray to stand-in for Santa Claus and Murray encounters humorously frustrating obstacles at his first few houses. Murray even has to try to assure a little boy at one of the houses that he, Murray, is in fact Santa by reciting the names of his reindeer, "There's Dumbo and Jumbo and Mason and Dixon, Cosmo and Kramer and Richard M. Nixon." The little boy remains skeptical.

Eventually, Murray gets the hang of present thing and even "...brought toys to the Naughty (a Very long list!)" When he finishes, Murray achieves a sort of cautious mutual respect with Edison Elf as the story ends with a cute, slight modification of a traditional Christmas greeting. It's a very nice ending for a book which includes an equally nice social commentary. The kiddies will enjoy Mom or Dad reading this one aloud, as long as Mom and Dad's laughing-out-loud isn't too distracting.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Put on Your Oxygen Mask First & Don't Feel Guilty About It!

There’s a single father lamenting his plight a little. How do I know? That single father is me.

Once a week, or twice if I’m lucky, I’m home on a weeknight because neither any of the kids nor I have to be anywhere. If one does, maybe it’s either walking distance or a short ride. That was my situation on a particular night not long ago. We didn’t have a family Taekwondo class. The Favorite Son didn’t have soccer practice. I didn’t have any meetings that I necessarily had to attend. Only one of The Two Beautiful Daughters had to work; she’s a mother’s helper for a platonic female friend neighbor.
There is a before school program in which I want my son to participate. To make that happen and to get him to the program on time, I know I have to make the morning go smoothly. To do that, I have to, figuratively and literally, set the table.
So, that night, I made The Favorite Son’s lunch and put it in the refrigerator. He and I picked out his clothes for school and set them next to the shower. I put water and coffee grounds in the coffee maker, which I set to automatically make coffee at 6:00 a.m. I wiped down the kitchen counter, range, and table. I readied the ingredients for breakfast: oatmeal. I set the table including bowls, spoons, napkins, cups, and vitamins. I did this all before seven o’clock!
So, I’m ready?
Well, yes.  However, then it occurred to me; on the other four school nights when I don’t have this kind of time, when the kids or I do have Taekwondo, a meeting, soccer, or a job, how am I supposed to get all of this done so I can “make the morning go smoothly?

Obviously, I don’t have a partner to help me divide and conquer the work. I can’t drive one kid to one sport and another to a study group while my wife picks out my son’s clothes, prepares the coffee maker, sets the table, et cetera. It’s all on me. There’s no way around it. The answer is, of course, I have to do it later, maybe much later.
So, Single Father, if there’s something you need to do to insure your kids are allowed to experience as much academic, athletic, and social opportunities as are reasonably available to them, you have to do it. It may be inconvenient. It may mean less sleep. It may mean suffering some other opportunity cost.
All of this is the unabridged way to say, Single Father, you sacrifice a lot for your children. So, when the time comes that you have an opportunity to relax and do something that you want to do, do not feel guilty about doing it. Frankly, you’ve earned it. Frankly, you need it.
You know your responsibilities to your children, but don’t forget about your responsibilities to yourself. In sort of the same way you might have money taken out of your paycheck and deposited into your 401(k) before you even see the money, set aside time for yourself three or four times a week to do something you want to do. Depending on the ages of your kids, you may have to arrange childcare, but do it! A few examples of activities you might consider are:
• Go to the gym.
• Watch the Sunday morning news show.
• Watch a football game on television.
• Hunt.
• Fish.
• Play golf.
• Go out with your buddies . . . and designate a driver.
• Have a play date with your girlfriend.
The fact is, you do a lot for your children. In many ways, perhaps even all ways, you are everything to them. To be the best dad you can be, you need to take the time to recharge and relax. Don’t feel even a little bit guilty. To be the best “You,” you can be, Single Dad, put on your oxygen mask first. You can help your kids with theirs if you aren’t able to breathe.

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Friday, December 14, 2012

Coming to a School District Near You: Choose Sensibly?

So, let me get this straight.
Among other New York school districts, The Warwick Valley Central School District where my three children attend school has instituted “a pilot program through the New York School Nutrition Association.[i]” The “Choose Sensibly” program, which “was incorporated into the district’s Wellness Policy[ii],” prohibits homemade food for all in-school events, all after-school events, all booster club fundraisers, and all PTA fundraisers.
For emphasis, parents cannot bring any homemade food to any school function. The Choose Sensibly program defines “homemade” food as “items prepared in a home or non-commercial kitchen[iii].”
Photo Credit: Kathie Austin Photography
On my son’s next birthday or non-denominational holiday party in his classroom, I can’t make vanilla cupcakes, oatmeal cookies, Crumb Cruncher's Evolving Trail Mix, (my famous) Old Man's Secret Recipe Garlic Parmesan Chicken Wings, or anything else in my kitchen and bring it to school. If you have children in school, neither can you.
A partial list of the items that you can bring to a school party, a school dance, or a booster club fundraiser includes Dewafflebakers Gourmet French Toast, including 3 grams of fat, 190 calories, and 230 grams of sodium, and Camden Creek Reduced Fat Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, which contains a whopping 6 grams of fat and 200 milligrams of sodium per cookie! Then, of course, parents can stick a birthday candle in a Superbakery Reduced Fat Super Donut, which chocks 6 grams of fat, 200 calories, 270 grams of sodium, 14 grams of sugar, and 31 grams of carbohydrates in each 2.2 ounce doughnut[iv].
If a mom or dad has a crunchy snack in mind for their little scholar, Jonny Rapp’s Ketchup Baked Fries in the one ounce size are just fine, and so are the 4 grams of fat and 230 milligrams of salt.[v] Funyuns are also on the list. In addition to the 120 calories, 7 grams of fat, and 270 milligrams of sodium in the filling .75 ounce bag, the kids will also enjoy monosodium glutamate, gum arabic[vi], which is also “used in printing, paint production, glue, cosmetics and various industrial applications[vii],” and at least the recommended daily allowance of artificial colors.
If the nutritional standards for Choose Sensibly aren’t enough of a concern, then the cost of purchasing products from the Choose Sensibly Snack List is. For example, if you can even find the .75 ounce bags of Funyuns, you’ll have to buy in bulk for the class. Likely, you’ll need at least 24 of those yummy little bags, so you’ll probably buy the Funyuns “Go-Bag,” which contains 12 snack-size bags. I could only find Funyuns Go-Bags for sale from an on-line vendor for about $7 each. So, you’ll get 24 of the .75 ounce snack bags of Funyuns for about $14, or roughly $12.44 per pound of snack. I’m pretty sure the makers of Funyuns will throw in the MSG, gum arabic, and artificial colors for not extra charge, though.
On the other hand, if a parent wanted to make blueberry muffins, including flour, blueberries, milk, eggs, and so forth, she or he could do it for less than a sawbuck, and that includes the blueberries. Each muffin would be about three ounces, so the cost per pound of snack, I would argue a much healthier snack, would be just $2.22.
So, if I have it right, Choose Sensibly will often, if not always, be less healthy or more expensive?
Huh?
Don’t get me wrong. I advocate for healthy lifestyles and, yes, I get it. Our local school districts are required to align with the New York School Nutrition Association, which, in turn, must fall in behind the new Department of Agriculture mandates. However, I’m not sure whether the institutions who have apparently failed to teach many of today’s parents the fundamental concepts of nutrition and a healthy diet during the past several decades should now tell us the foods our children can and cannot eat . . . or the foods I can bring to my son’s class birthday party.
Frankly, I’m not sure how sensible Choose Sensibly is. It appears to me that Choose Sensibly may well have been created by, now, what's that word for a person who is the opposite of sensible?

[i]New Guidelines for Acceptable Snacks, Concessions, and food-related fundraising.” www.warwickvalleyschools.com. September 13, 2012.
[ii]New Guidelines for Acceptable Snacks, Concessions, and food-related fundraising.” www.warwickvalleyschools.com. September 13, 2012.
[iii]New Guidelines for Acceptable Snacks, Concessions, and food-related fundraising.” www.warwickvalleyschools.com. September 13, 2012.
[iv]Choose Sensibly Snack List: Updated October 2011. www.nyschoolnutrition.org. September 25, 2012.
[v]Choose Sensibly Snack List: Updated October 2011. www.nyschoolnutrition.org. September 25, 2012.
[vi]Nutritional Facts. Funyuns .75 ounce bag. Frito-Lay. 2012.
[vii]“Gum arabic.” Wikipedia. September 12, 2012.

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Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Healthy Snacking: The Chicken, the Egg, or the Almond

The First Beautiful Daughter & The Favorite Son
Recently, I’d come home after dropping of or picking up one of my children to or from some activity or, perhaps, grocery shopping or running some errand, and I walked into the kitchen. I found The First Beautiful daughter doing homework at the dinner table. All manner of text books, work books, and notebooks occupied about two-thirds of the space. She was writing something on one of the pages.

None of this is particularly unusual; The First Beautiful Daughter is exceptionally responsible. Although she loaded up on honors and Advanced Placement classes this year, I continue find her name listed on the high school honor roll when it’s published in the local paper.
 When I saw my lovely young lady working at the table, I permitted myself a self-satisfied smile. However, the reason for my smile was as much for my admiration for The First Beautiful Daughter’s work ethic as it was for the snack she enjoyed while she worked: she nibbled from an open bag of roasted, lightly salted almonds.


I don’t know if it’s the chicken or the egg, but The First Beautiful Daughter is, in fact, beautiful, physically, fit, and intelligent. Her snack decision, rather than a high carbohydrate and/or high sugar content snack, she made the healthier choice of a high protein, low carbohydrate food. Is she beautiful, fit, and intelligent because she makes good eating decisions, or does she make good food choices because she is beautiful, fit, and intelligent?
Better than high carbohydrate snack foods: roasted and lightly salted whole almonds
Rather than eating a one ounce bag of a processed snack food like, for instance, FUNYUNS, which contains 18 grams of carbohydrates, essentially no fiber, and very little in the way of vitamins and minerals, the equivalent serving of almonds has less than a third of the carbohydrates, 16-fold the dietary fiber, three times the protein, and a quarter of the recommended daily allowance for vitamin E and several minerals. At least as important, an ounce of almonds is real food, which may satisfy snack urge with just a few nuts. My daughter, or anyone, may need several extra calorie-laden ounces of a salty, processed snack food to get the same satisfaction.

No, I didn't have any FUNYUNS in the house, so The First Beautiful Daughter's choice wasn't quite so stark. Still, I did have some whole wheat pretzels and flavored mini rice crisps, which are relatively better than most other processed snack foods. Still, my young lady made a great choice.
It doesn’t matter whether it’s the egg or the chicken, and you, single father, can affect your children's choices. Before you reach for those bags of cheese doodles, potato chips, or other processed snack “food” at the grocery store, remember The Single Father’s Golden Rule, “If you don’t bring junk food home in your grocery bags, you and your children won’t eat it!” They'll see the decisions you'll make and, very likely, will emulate your behavior.
After all, the almond doesn't fall far from the tree.

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Friday, December 7, 2012

Single Father's Book Club: Motherless Daughters by Hope Edelman

Hope Edelman created a painstakingly researched and written tome on the subject of a girl's loss of a mother. Ms. Edelman knows her subject. It's clear from the dedication to the epilogue that the book is a dedication to her own mother who died in 1981. I'm sure the exercise was as practical as it was cathartic for the author.

What I like about Motherless Daughters: The Legacy of Loss is  more than the research, more than Ms. Edelman's portrayals of her own experience, and more than the "case studies" of the scores of other motherless daughters who the author interviewed for the book - the practical "what to expect" stuff. While there are many examples, the one that made an impression on me was her descriptions of the grieving processes based on the age of the child. As I read Ms. Edelman's description of a young girl having to wait months after her mother died to begin the grief process because (and I paraphrase) the girl needed to know that she was "in safe and comfortable place to do so," I thought to myself, "Hey, she's right! That's really how it happened!"

Throughout the book, the author continues to make associations and suggestions based on her own research and that of other social scientists (end-noted) and supported by anecdotes from the motherless daughters she interviewed. I particularly appreciated the description of the "Four Types of Fathers" in the chapter entitled "Daddy's Little Girl."

My concern about Motherless Daughters is Ms. Edelman's almost incessant implication that when a girl loses her mother, there's not much that can be done and the girl will suffer. When the motherless daughter experiences menarche, her mother will not be there and the girl will be sad. When the motherless daughter loses her virginity, her mother will not be there and the girl will be sad. When the motherless daughter gets married, her mother will not be there and the girl will be sad. When the motherless daughter has her first child, well, you know. And, that's not the worst of it. As a result of these and other events, the motherless daughter may run a great risk of being socially maladjusted, may seek the wrong kind of men, may turn to same-sex relationships, may become an impotent parent, and so forth. Although Edelman suggested an heroic father or an aunt or grandmother who could serve as a second-best surrogate mother may help to some extent, it did not appear that there were many effective solutions to prevent the likely psychological damage Ms. Edelman suggested a motherless daughter will almost certainly experience.

I did appreciate the author's suggestion of enlisting a doula when the motherless daughter navigates birthing her children. The practical benefit of a doula to talk with the otherwise inexperienced and resource-less motherless and pregnant woman would include breast feeding tips and dealing with post-partum depression. However, there seemed to be little else in the way of coping skills.

A daughter's loss of her mother is among the most tragic, traumatic events anyone can imagine. Heck, fairytales often use the event and images to create an untenable situation for the protagonist, e.g., Snow White and Cinderella. However, whether we want to admit it or even think about it, one person's death does not mean that all life ends. It's doesn't. In the end, each person has to make the decision whether to move forward and find ways to live a happy, fulfilled life, or not. Even a motherless daughter.

In the final chapter entitled "The Female Phoenix," Edelman offers hope. She postulates motherless daughter may experience "an environment without limits...(which) provides freedom necessary for individual growth" where the "tragedy...can be a springboard for creativity and growth, and for working that tragedy out in very healthy ways." Examples of motherless daughters include Dorothy Wordsworth, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Charlotte and Emily Bronte, Jane Addams, Marie Curie, Gertrude Stein, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Marilyn Monroe, among others. Edelman's final line is, "a motherless daughter can emerge from the tragedy, and take flight," evidently like these high-achieving motherless daughters. The statement is valid, but a part of me isn't sure the author believes much can be done to affect that outcome.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

First Date Sex and The Single Father

CONTENT WARNING: This post is intended to be “straight talk” between one single father, me, and other single fathers who will read it. Obviously, members of the fairer gender may read this post and find some of the content offensive. Read at your own risk.

Okay, single fathers. Here’s a question for you. Is sex on the first date a good idea?
There’s an old adage repeated by men around poker and pool tables and on golf courses everywhere that goes something like this: “Good sex is good sex. Bad sex is good sex.” The obvious implication, at least from a man’s perspective, is “There’s no such thing as bad sex.”
In working title Dating, Sex, and Relationships the Second Time Around: The Single Father's Guide, I suggest that the single father will encounter potential romantic interests who fall into one or more of four groups:
1. The Lady with the Lamp (LWL) – In the spirit of Florence Nightingale, the LWL sees the divorced or widower single father as a man to whom some injustice has been done and sees her role as one who is willing to provide comfort.
2. The Career Woman – The Career Woman is typically intelligent and successful. She has achieved just about everything she has wanted to achieve in her career during the decade or two since she finished college and/or entered the workforce, but has yet to reach the same level of accomplishment in her personal life, like a committed personal relationship with a man and children.
3. The Pragmatist – The Pragmatist may often also be a Career Woman, but she’s been down the road a few times with widowers and/or divorced men. She’s already tried to make it work with the guy who hasn’t properly grieved the end of his previous relationship or who hasn’t addressed the personal issues that led to its demise. She knows what she wants and won’t settle for anything less than a strong, committed relationship.
4. The “Girls Just Want to Have Fun (GJWHF)” Girl – Well, this is pretty straight forward. The GJWHF Girl just wants to have, well, some fun. No strings are attached.
While there's something to be said about good things coming to those who wait, I’m truly a “live and let live” kind of guy. At this point, you aren't a naive child anymore, and, more than likely, neither are your potential romantic interests. So, if you’re honest with yourself and honest with your potential romantic partner about who you are and what you want, then I think two consenting adults can and should do what they want to do. Given the women you’ll encounter while dating, however, I have some advice.
First, The LWL may also be a Career Woman or a GJWHF Girl. If she’s is the latter, then there is nothing wrong with enjoying her company. If she’s a Career Woman, however, and if she wants to have children, then don’t string her along! Caution, the LWL may be a married woman whose need to provide comfort may be greater than her need to adhere to prior commitment. In that case, brother, leave it alone. The possible repercussions for her, you, and others simply aren’t worth the short term benefit.


Second, as I’ve alluded, the Career Woman has been successful in her career and has realized that her time to have a family may be running short. She may want to move quickly toward marriage and children. With the single father, she may see the opportunity to have both right away. If your vision of the future is consistent with hers, then there is no problem. If your visions aren’t the same, then don’t string her along. Caution, your romantic interests may not always be as honest and forthcoming about their intentions as you are. If you aren’t careful, you may get, ten or so months after a first or subsequent date sexual encounter, more than you bargained for.
Finally, if you just want to have fun and you’re dating a GJWHF girl, well, as long has you and your partner are on the same page on everything ranging from bedroom etiquette to birth control, then by all means, have fun.
You might have noticed I didn’t address The Pragmatic. The reason is simple. She's a woman who knows what she wants and does as she pleases. Unless you're mature, responsible, and emotionally healthy, she'll likely not give you a second look.
The bottom line here, my brother, is this: be honest with yourself about the things you want in a relationship. Then, be honest with your partner. After that, well, it's just none of my or anyone else's business what you and another consenting adult do in your spare time.