Three years

I mostly use this space to talk about writing and KRH, but in many ways that leaves out what’s probably the most important third of my life, my wife.  Today is our third anniversary, so I want to talk a little about our relationship and what that means to me.

Those three years have been a very long road, and I don’t think it would be an exaggeration to say more things have happened in that time than in the 5-ish years of dating/engagement before. We struggled with loss…

…which turned into the adventure of success…

… and now apparently we’re parents or something. How did that happen? Sometimes it’s a mystery to me.

What I do know is that my wife had been the thing I can rely on most in this life. She allows me to be a better person, in ways that I wasn’t able before I met her. I can count on her intelligence, empathy and support in what I do. I often say to her that we make better decisions  than I do on my own, and I believe that. Sure, there’s a lot of kilometers and a lot of learning between where we started and where we are, and sure it’s been difficult and there have been struggles. But that’s the essence of growth, isn’t it? If we weren’t challenged, how would we improve?

But the real essence of what we’ve created is, I believe, a partnership. This relationship isn’t just about the time she makes for me to write, or how she went back to work early so I could take parental leave to spend time with KRH, or even just the way she’s always there to talk or listen or whatever I need. It’s about me also providing those kinds of support for her, just as often as she provides them for me. I don’t believe our relationship will ever be equal, because we both have different needs at different times, but it is important to me that it be fair, that we are both contributing enough to the well-being and success of the other.

I think this is something we do well. As with everything in our life, it’s been tested by KRH’s arrival, and there’s a lot more learning and a lot more improving that needs to be done. Indeed, I never want that to stop.

Looking back on those three years, there’s been some heartbreak and some euphoria. I hope things trend more toward the latter for the many years ahead, but no matter what happens I know we’ll meet it as partners. And that makes me happy.

 

 

The home stretch

This week marks the final third of my parental leave. In just one month, KRH will be start day care. Shortly after, I’ll be returning to my day job in communications for a nonprofit.

This leaves me with somewhat mixed emotions.  I’ve had a lot of fun being at home with KRH. We’ve gone on lots of walks, visited my parents, been to some classes, and just generally spent time together. And I’ve had a good time, but it’s also been a lot of work, to the point where my secondary goals for the summer (things like working on my eating, and writing, and such) have been basically non-existent.

I knew my summer would be busy, and yet it caught me by surprise. I think maybe I wasn’t expecting just how much even a small thing could throw off a day. I imagined I could get into a schedule of naps that would allow me to get things done. But sometimes, KRH just throws out a big fuck you to naps and so he’s fussy all the time. Or he gets us up three times a night and I’m bagged the next day. Or my timing is slightly off and we miss a nap, or he naps in the car for five minutes, or there’s laundry or chores or other things to do.

So long story short, while I’ve enjoyed this summer, most of those goals remain undone. Of course, when I go back to work, I don’t think I’m going to suddenly have a lot more time to do these things. In fact, I’m probably going to have less. That’s going to present its own challenge, and it’s one I hope I’ll be able to deal with once I have a rhythm and a schedule and things that I don’t have right now.

Still, I can look back on the last 10 weeks with some pride. I’ve learned a lot about parenting, about KRH, and about what my wife has been through. I’ve learned to handle fussy days and missed naps and changing schedules and stormy periods. I’m sure I have a lot more to learn, but I’m more in sync with KRH than before. Furthermore, I’ve learned that despite that I really wanted this, it’s not really what I want to do full time (perhaps because I imagined I’d have a lot more time to write and stay organized and cook and clean and all that). Full-time stay at home parenting isn’t what I really aspire to, at least not as I’ve experienced it right now.

I wouldn’t say that I’m eager to go back to work (they’ve been calling me about some technical things and I’ve racked up a bunch of hours in the last few weeks and even more spent worrying). But I am looking forward to the opportunity to change things up and find new ways of doing things that will, I hope, be a lot more sustainable. What it will look like, I’m not certain, but I intend for it to have opportunities for both writing and for lots of quality time with my family.

White supremacy and parenthood

I didn’t see this coming. If you’d asked me, a year or two ago, what I figured one of the key issues of the early years of KRH’s life would be, I’d have never said white supremacy. Even last year, I would never have supposed you’d see actual Nazis marching the streets of the United States on the scale we recently witnessed.

It isn’t as if I thought it could never happen. I spent a lot of my university degree exploring the rise of fascism and the Second World War, so I consider myself academically fluent in their existence and many of the methods they’re employing today. In fact, while I was going to school in the mid 2000s, I would often joke about street battles with Nazis, because at the time Lethbridge (where I went to school) had a white supremacist movement, as did my home town. But at the time, it felt laughable. We’d beaten the Nazis. They were just clinging to an ideology that millions of brave men and women helped bury.

Instead, in 2017, it’s clear that fascist ideology remains a powerful force. And not just fascism, but the white identity that goes with it.

I find this alarming and disturbing. I was lucky enough to spent a number of years involved in a program called CISV, a youth peace education movement which allowed me to visit Japan and Norway and meet a lot of people from a lot of other cultures. I learned we have nothing to fear from the other, a belief I still hold to this day. I think societies with more viewpoints are stronger, not weaker.

So what do we do about white supremacists? We have our share in Canada, emboldened by events to the south and in Europe. I think it’s incumbent on me, as a white guy, a citizen and a parent, to challenge these ideologies where I can. I’m lucky that I don’t think I know anyone who harbours these kinds of thoughts, but people don’t have to be outright Nazis to sympathize with many of their ideas, given how easily they play on our cultural fears. And it is hugely important for me to try and share my own beliefs about equality, tolerance, justice and kindness with KRH, especially in an age when young white people are just a web search away from radicalization.

Furthermore, I think it’s critical that we avoid the kind of political climate that leads to strengthening these ideas. I think that’s exactly what Canadians did when they rejected the barbaric cultural practices hotline and other fearmongering in 2015, but those ideas were merely pushed back, not defeated. We must recognize that right-wing politics is not always tied to ideas like fear of the other, but reject it whenever it is.

And for those brave enough and willing to do it? I think outright confrontation of these ideas is important. If white supremacists come into our streets and threaten us with violence, oppression and death, then we must respond. I have a complicated relationship with punching Nazis and although I find it satisfying, it isn’t an approach I would personally take. But, I do think it’s important for good people to reject and oppose these ideas at every turn.

A Man For All Seasons isn’t a political blog. It’s a blog about writing and parenthood. But in 2017, that requires the acknowledgement of white supremacy and fascism. I believe that we all must stop what we’re doing and take notice of what’s going on.

Logistics mode: Daddy edition

An idea my wife and I picked up some time ago is about “logistics mode.” From Brigid Schulte’s Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has The Time, the idea is simply, for mothers, it’s easy to get caught in a whirlwind of Things That Need Doing, to the point where your brain fixates on these things.

I thought, until recently, that I understood this fairly well. I consider myself an equal partner in the life my wife and I have made together. We’ve always been a bit non-traditional, so getting planning for meals, getting groceries and cooking were always mostly my jobs, while my wife took care of our money management and more irregular household things. Also, acts of service is one of my main love languages, so if I spot something (the dishes are a good example) that are technically my wife’s job, I’ll often do it, because I want her to have free time. Surely it was normal to have a head buzzing full of Things That Needed Doing.

What I’ve learned since I started parental leave, though, is that it isn’t just having an ongoing list in your brain. It’s more like a set of handcuffs. And I think I finally understand what my wife went through for the first 8 months of KRH’s life.

Over the last few years, I tried as much as I could to take things off my wife’s plate. Even before she got pregnant, she was under a lot of stress, so in my way I took on things to try and help with that. I acquired a lot of small chores, like feeding the cats, cutting the lawn, cleaning litterboxes. None of these were large chores, but I wanted to try and take them off my wife’s to-do list. Then along came KRH, and I certainly wasn’t handing any of those back.

Since I went on parental leave, I’ve been trying to do just about everything I can. Indeed, I’ve felt like I have to, like these things are the prerequisites to being a good Dad. So I’ve been doing errands, laundry, all the cleaning I can, and so on. Plus, I take care of KRH from the moment my wife leaves, until after she’s home and fed and ready to take him on for a while. And since KRH still doesn’t take a bottle and my wife is working, I listen for him on the baby monitor at night, and I jump up to get him and bring him to my wife, and then take him back to his crib after. Finally, we’ve had a few weeks where we’ve been away on weekends or otherwise busy, so even our joint-cooking sessions have fallen on me. And my time to do more or less everything is during naps and after my wife gets home.

I don’t want anyone to think my wife isn’t pulling her weight. She works hard during the day, and as I’ve started to get overwhelmed with these things she’s been pushing me to communicate and tell he what I need to take off my to-do list. But I feel a bit paralyzed by the sheer number of things it takes to keep this household running to whatever my apparent standard is. And even when I do have down time (which my wife makes sure I get), I can’t seem to use it how I want, which is mostly for writing. As such, I’m not making much of any progress.

I knew, of course, that my writing would suffer when I went on parental leave. But I didn’t expect the level to which it has. This week marks the halfway point of that leave, and I’m feeling more than a touch down on myself, because I have a high expectation for myself when it comes to myself. Apparently, that expectation does not adjust to include children.

So what am I doing to try and get past this? Well, I’m trying to free up mental space and loosen those handcuffs. Here’s how.

Meditate
Meditation always makes me feel calmer, more focused, and generally happier. And for some reason, as soon as I get stressed, it’s always the first thing to fall to the wayside. That doesn’t make sense, but I think a lot of our culture encourages us to sacrifice self-care when the going gets tough.  So, I’m trying to carve out at least a little bit of time for meditation every day.

Cutting out social media
Stop me if you’ve heard this one. Social media distracts focus. I find it easy to get distracted by whatever god-awful daily nightmare is going on south of the border. Twitter, in particular, is my poison. There’s real value and importance in keeping aware of what’s going on in the news, and I think dis-engaging from politics is itself an act that only the very privileged can take. But I do need to stop focusing on things that interrupt my train of thought and steal my time. So, I’m blocking Twitter on my phone during the day.

Get permission for self-care
Nobody needs permission for self care. But in a situation where my not doing things means someone else has to, self-care is one of those things that can fall by the wayside. My wife, aware that I’m struggling, gave me permission to leave some things like dishes or tidying for her when she gets home. This helps me feel better about using time like naps for self-care.