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
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.
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.
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
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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 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!
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.