Book Proposal: The Art of Being A Dad
by Mark Wagner

BEING A DAD: Main Text
runs throughout the book


Being A Dad
Main Text

The Art of Being A Dad is a creative collaboration between a dad and his two small kids, and a glimpse into their relationship for the first seven years. It’s one’s man journey as he navigates the colliding worlds of babies and career, awe and exhaustion, innocence and responsibility, boundaries and freedom. It’s also an artist’s visual journal of his relationship with his kids; who they are, what they do, how they do it, and who is he in the face of being a parent, an artist, a man, and their DAD.

The Real Problem I have about 40 minutes before I have to pick up the little one from kindergarten, and then another hour until I pick up the bigger one from third grade. This morning my wife, their mom, left town for 7 days and I am home alone, being a temporary single parent. Over the week there will be bike rides, play dates, birthday parties, quiet time, books, baths, silly songs, food, a few kids movies, and trips to the dog park and art studio. There will be tears and screams, band aids, fights, freak outs, melt downs, and absolute total insanity… and then it will be bedtime – for us all.

The real problem that I have at this moment is that I have misplaced my watch, which has an alarm that tells me when it’s time to go pick up the kids.


Why Me?
As a young man I had really never considered being a dad. I was in my mid 30’s when I got married and then the baby conversations slowly started to happen over the next several years. Honestly, marriage alone is a lot of work that requires a great deal of presence and listening, speaking up, letting go, and BIG LOVE. We have had our hard times, but I married a beautiful, stubborn, creative woman who is willing to do her own personal work alongside me. With a lot of help and regular counseling, almost 20 years later, I am proud to say we are doing better than ever.


The Universe of Dads
There are as many dads as there are stars in the night sky. Some families have two dads or two moms, some have second marriages, some dads are absent or in prison. Still, underneath all the social constructs there is an essential archetype and universal dad that we all can relate to and connect with. If I lived in another country or culture and had different colored skin I would still be a dad but a different kind of dad. This book comes from my world, but hopefully you can find yourself in these words and images.


Pink Tutus and Purple Stuff
Being a dad of two little girls is specific. If I had boys I know it would be different, but it’s pink and purple tutus, Barbies, stuffed animals, bikes with white tires and colored tassels, and make believe games about relationships when the little one calls the older one – mom.

Other than being a dad, I am an artist and teacher. I work in the film industry as a concept artist and am an illustrator and graphic designer. I paint and draw, play on computers, and sell paintings in galleries. I have taught in art schools, state prisons, and I recently created a pilot artist-in-residency program at my kid’s elementary school.


What the Heck is Going On Here?
Being a parent of little people is brutal no matter how you cut it. It is one of the most challenging things that any person will take on in their lives. One of my first experiences as a dad was with my brand new baby (only minutes into this world). I was holding her in my hands for the first time and saw her biting her lip, frowning, bug eyed and staring right at me with a, “what the heck is going on here?” expression on her face. Somehow, in that moment, I knew that I would help her answer that question over her lifetime. This book is part of that quest.


Planet Mom
Moms are totally different creatures. They get dragged closer to the center of the cyclone than dads because they’re fused with their babies from the beginning. Moms are a babies food source, their home, and their connection to life itself. There are no separations, they are one. Then, after birth mom and baby begin their separate journeys to try and figure out who they are apart from each other. Sleep and exhaustion are the big issues in the beginning; moms don’t get much for years, and it makes them appear to be totally insane! The best thing you can do as a dad and partner is to be of service whenever possible. One of the most important things you can do at this time is to figure out how to take care of yourself - because at times, there will be no one else who can. A powerful mantra to offer up when your partner is freaking is, “how can I best support you now?” You’ll see, it works magic.


The Trade Off
The domestic life of two freelance artists is a constant juggle. We take turns with kid duty so we can both get our work done, and also be with the kids. We greet our children in a variety of states; sometimes crying or hungry and in need of a diaper change within minutes of just changing the last one. We see them at 5am with someone who is smiling and wide awake, or maybe sick with thick snot running down their faces, licking the stuff up with their own tongues or rubbing it all over their clothes and you! One day a week my wife and I each have an entire day off from being a parent, which creates time and space to remember that we are more than just someone’s parent.

Can We Do Something Together?
My art studio is a mile from the house and over the years I have had to take my kids to work with me. I set them up to paint, draw, play, and later do homework or take quiet time as I work. With little kids I can work uninterrupted for about 5 – 10 minutes. Then they get bored and want to play with me. Sometimes I can distract them with something else, like “hey here are some new colored pencils that you haven’t tried” but that’ll only work for so long and then there they’ll be, at my feet, saying, “Daddy, can we do something together?”.... And so I’ll let go of whatever I am doing and I’ll hang out with them; make some art together, play tag, and on rare occasion even play Barbies.


Turning Babysitting Into A Business
Over the years, through observing and interacting with my kids, I started to have interesting insights into being a dad. I’d jot fragments of sentences down in the back of my sketchbook and make little pictures of them, and then one day as I was driving the kids to the studio I realized that I had a book in the makings. This felt good, it made sense, plus it helped me to justify hanging out with my kids and not feeling “bad” that I wasn’t working and bringing in more income. I just put myself on a payroll and turned my baby-sitting into a business! This put a smile on my face and I knew it would eventually put a smile on my wife’s face when this book was sold and published.

A Brief History of Dads
One of the negative aspects of the industrial revolution was the effect it had on the family unit. With the movement from the country to the city, now instead of working closer to home, like on the family farm, fathers were working outside of the home and leaving the kids behind with mom. Working men left home early and came back late, sometimes only spending an hour or less with their kids before putting them to bed. Sometimes they came home tired and only wanted to only be left alone

The absence of dad and all his positive generative energy is deeply missed at home. Mom’s are overburdened and become less effective, kids are being raised one sided and not holistically, their psyches miss our dad’s presence. Dad’s are missing something too, being connected to their kids. We need these connections as much as our kids do because we have things to teach and learn from each other that is totally unique.

I’ve taught art in prisons and met a lot of guys there. One of the things I learned was that many of the men didn’t have their dads around when they were young to protect and direct them. Maybe this is one of the reasons these young men have gone astray and create such trouble. Something is wrong here, prisons filled with uninitiated men with no fathers. Part of this world is out of balance. A powerful long-term sustainable resource that needs to be tapped into is the positive creative loving energy of being a dad.

Babies, Kids, Adults
Babies are totally open beings who, within the first seconds of being born, experience some of the most intense moments of their lives, coming into this totally alien world where they have their own bodies that breath, hear, taste, smell, touch, and see. Kids are kids; they have at best a few years under their diapers. They have a thousand words by the time they are one they are one that they just cannot put together to make any sense at all. They’re still trying to figure out how to use their bodies using fingers, legs, arms, feet, and a head. It’s monumental at first. It takes months to learn how to not poke themselves in the face, or to sit up, to crawl. It takes over a year to walk, not to mention run well enough without wiping out, or even riding a bike. And as a parent, just when you think you have gotten into a groove with what teh kids can and cannot do, just when you think you’ve gotten a handle on things, everything changes; some little one pukes in the car or on you as you are leaving for the party or then suddenly someone comes down with a fever. Not that you can avoid it; it’s part of the great plan, part of your education as a parent.

Adults on the other hand are really interesting creatures. From a little kid's point of view they might be pretty hard to relate to. They drive cars, leave the house on their own, make all the rules, pick you up off the ground when they want to take you somewhere, work too much, put you in the tub when you don’t want to, and they make you go to bed early way too early.
Adults are special in another way too, which is they used to be kids themselves. Unless they’ve totally forgotten, they know exactly what it is like to be a kid because somewhere inside of them their little kids still exist. It’s like there’s two people in one; the adult part of them, who, if raised with kindness and love, is responsible for themselves, their family and friends, their community, and ultimately the world, and then the other part of them which is their inner kid. The connection and access you have to that little kid inside of you is essential to being a really good parent. It is a way for you to create the bridge with your kids so that they can relate to you and you can relate to them.


Bad Idea
Whereas an adult can make the bridge to being a kid, kids can only be kids, so you shouldn’t expect them to rise to your level and relate to you the way you might expect your friends to. Waiting for them to grow up so that you can have a relationship with them is a bad idea! If you really want to connect with them, if you are curious about who they are, interested in seeing what they see, even looking for something you thought you lost a long time ago, a missing piece of your puzzle in life, go to them and they will show you.


Our Teachers
Our kids can be our teachers. They can lead us to places where we feel free, excited about simple things, mischievous, and present. They can help us jump in and over puddles, forget about time, climb trees, and do really good silly dances. They will blow our minds and open our hearts like nothing else because they are truly magic, but the development of this magic depends on how you allow them to grow, how you choose to nurture them, and how committed you are to being their dad.

You’re also their caretaker, the one who sets firm and fair boundaries, who is there for them when they need you and when they don’t, and who also gets to be the bad guy because you won’t let them eat all the candy they want. You have the power to create an environment of love and security. You can teach them to listen by listening, share their truths by sharing yours. You can make physical contact with them, fix their bikes, let them use tools, take them out into the front yard to look for salamanders, take them to work, introduce them to the world so that they grow up feeling connected and empowered.

In spite of the millions of moments of pure exhaustion where you might lose it more than once in anger and rage, and feeling completely done without an ounce of anything left – you will still find a hidden reserve that was previously unknown. You can learn and practice taking care of yourself while you take care of others, and if you can do all this and not go insane then you will have earned one of the greatest prizes of all, the honor of getting a new name and well deserving it – Dad!

When you get down on your knees to your kid’s level and see things from their perspective you will see the world in a different way. Everyone is looking down at you, everything looks big, even the dog. If you keep looking around you will see something else, your kids… and they will be looking back at you, looking into your eyes with a big smile, and in that moment you will both know that everything is good – everything!

Phone Call

Then the phone rings…
“Dad, where are you?”
“Oh yeah….right, I’ll be right there.”


In the end, you just begin again, the next chapter of Being A Dad, the preteens, the next book, the next phase in the never ending process of being a dad. You won’t be going out to buy baby food and diapers, won’t be taking drives to get kids to go to sleep, won’t have a baby seat in your car, and you won’t be doing that little trade with your partner on whose night it is to get up and hang out with a crying person who is having a bad dream.

Now I am hearing about the social life of an elementary school, who likes who this week, she's being mean to me, and boys are weird. I am helping with math homework that I don’t understand. I am driving kids to gymnastics, to soccer, to sleep-over's, watching teenage movies, having family meetings, helping everyone get along and part of the family.

I sense some really hard work, the 24/7 realm of parenting really little people, is over. My wife and I look at each other when we are around our friends who have little kids and we smile, it’s a secret smile about being really glad we aren’t there anymore and it’s also a smile knowing how wonderful it really was. Now more hard work and play will continue as our kids slowly and not so slowly enter into the teenage years. Yikes!!!

I send out my love and a prayer that my kids and all kids do well in this wild, crazy, sad, unknown, mysterious, and wonderful world.

~Mark Wagner (dad)


Copyright © 2008 Mark Wagner. All rights reserved.