HOMETOWN / WHERE DO YOU LIVE NOW? Grew up in Maine. Live in Ann Arbor.
ON THE WEB Growing Sideways.net
NUMBER OF CHILDREN Jay (age 3) and Wally (age 1)
DAY JOB Part-time freelance writer (corporate work to pay the bills, magazine articles with a sociological bent because I like writing them); part-time stay-at-home dad.
RELATIONSHIP STATUS Married
FAVORITE CHILDREN’S BOOK
I really admire the elegance of Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. In the quality of its construction—the simplicity of the narrative, the easy way Sendak gestures to the idea that the whole story is in Max’s head—it puts 99.9 percent of all children’s book to shame. Another favorite in our house is Caps for Sale by Esphyr Slobodkina. It was one of my favorite books as a kid and I wrote a post about the experience of reading it to my son when he was 2-years-old. There’s a moment late in the story when the peddler throws his last remaining cap to the ground. His despair is so simple yet viscerally conveyed: without his caps, nothing in the world matters anymore. I felt that point on a gut level when my parents read the book to me as a kid. I understood it intellectually when I read the book 25 years later to my son.
HOW DO YOU COMBINE WORK AND FAMILY?
My wife is a post-doctoral research fellow in demographics at the University of Michigan. Her schedule could be flexible but she tries hard to keep a 9-5 for productivity’s sake. In the mornings I work from home while the boys are with their nanny (I’m on the second floor, they’re on the first). In the afternoons our nanny leaves and I take care of Jay and Wally until 5pm when the three of us drive over to the university to pick up Caroline. In The Changing Rhythms of American Family Life a group of UCLA sociologists points out that ours is one of the rarest divisions of labor out there: Among families with young children, only 2 percent have a full-time working mom and a part-time working dad.
So how did we get there? When I was 20 I didn’t envision being a stay-at-home dad. I wouldn’t have objected to it, either—it’s just that the thought never crossed my mind. But by the time my wife and I had our first child, when we were 28, it made sense that we’d arrange our time this way. She was at a point in her career where she needed all the work time she could get, while my schedule was flexible and I wanted time with my kids to be a big part of my day. We’ve kind of been making it up as we’ve gone along and it’s worked so far.
HOW HAS PARENTING CHANGED YOU AS AN INDIVIDUAL?
I saw this episode of The Dog Whisperer Once. There was this overly energetic, slightly manic dog. A yellow lab, I think. And Cesar Milan’s solution was to strap a weight jacket on the dog. He explained that the dog needed to feel like he was doing work—he needed a sense of purpose—in order to settle the dog down enough so that he could handle the mundane parts of his life—going for a walk, lying around the house. I was like that before I became a father. I was pretty confused in my 20s. Not in any dramatic kind of way—I just didn’t know what I wanted in life. Becoming a father gave me enough structure to begin to fill in the other pieces of my life.
HOW HAS PARENTING AFFECTED YOUR RELATIONSHIP?
My wife and I both felt like we’d had enough of our 20s by the time we became parents. Enough eating out. Enough travel. Enough doing whatever we wanted to do. Becoming parents has given us a project to work on together. I think we’ve maybe each been surprised by how much the other is into parenting—how much we love the work of building a family and building a family culture together.
Building a family life has also been rewarding for both of us on a professional level. My wife studies family demography—basically who’s having babies, why they’re having babies, when in life they decide to have them. And over the last few years my freelance writing has focused on providing an on-the-ground perspective on the sociological trends she does research on. We spend a lot of time talking about family and parenting on an academic level and it’s been a lot of fun to draw connections between the ideas we’re engaging professionally and the work we’re doing at home raising kids.
WHAT IS YOUR WORST PARENTING MOMENT?
A couple come to mind. Once on a playground in Philadelphia I lost sight of Jay and ran around frantically for a few minutes without being able to find him. Eventually some teenagers carried him back in my direction (he’d wandered into their basketball game and was hysterical in their arms). For a moment before I found him, I felt like I had a glimpse of what it would be like to lose him forever.
The other really bad moments are less defined. They’re when I lose my temper with my kids, or find myself being a less generous spouse than I’d like to be. It’s a bad feeling when my own flaws affect everyone else in our family.
WHAT IS YOUR BEST PARENTING MOMENT?
I think the best parenting moments are the ones where I behold the miracle of the children I brought into the world and feel so full of love for them that I can’t breath. And those moments happen a thousand times a day.
In more specific terms, I love the perspective I have on my children when they’re at a distance from me, independent and taking care of themselves. It can be when I see them across the way on the playground (though not too far across the way, per my answer to question #2), or I’m in the kitchen cooking dinner and they’re playing by themselves, or even when I tiptoe into their rooms at night to watch them sleep.
I like that the distance lets me see them a little more fully. And I like seeing them in charge of their own lives, able to take care of themselves. Because ultimately, if they can do that, then I’ve done my job as a parent.