Blood & Bandages

Barbershop, originally uploaded by Rigmarole

You can tell it's a manly place as soon as you walk inside. There's a leather couch in the waiting area, and a big jar of Barbicide on the counter. In the place of oversized books with photos of outdated hairstyles, you can find magazines about cars and motorcycles. It's my barber shop, and it's awesome.

I've been going to unisex salons for most of my life. Over the years, I've received my share of bad haircuts. Many people have struggled to tame my naturally curly hair, so when I found a good stylist, I tended to stick with her. I'd been with my previous stylist until she moved several states away and I got a job on the other side of the Twin Cities. Out of necessity, I started to patronize a local barber shop, and now I no longer dread my visits to the chair.

The Art of Manliness argues that every man should go to a barber shop. After a few trips to my new barber, I vowed to never again get my hair cut in a salon. I end up looking great every time, it's a relaxing environment, and my barber works as a part-time fireman besides. How manly can you get?


Otpor - Resistance, originally uploaded by Igor Jeremic

I don't believe you can ever truly be "ready" to have children. No amount of reading or instructional DVDs or even taking care of other people's kids can fully prepare you for parenthood. You just have to dive in, and learn as you go.

On the other hand, before we had our baby, I felt about as ready as I'd ever be. In the past two years I had a pair of nieces come into my life, and all my friends were having babies, so I had a good idea of what to expect. I was prepared for sleep deprivation and midnight feedings. I was prepared to change a never-ending stream of diapers, temporarily lose the use of one arm, and try to comfort a baby while she cried for hours. I was not prepared for her to fight me every step of the way.

I try to change my daughter, and she kicks and squirms. I try to give her a bottle, and she spits it out. I try to soothe her, and she screams. She's strong, and whatever I'm trying to do, she loves to resist me. And I love her for it.

I figured out that my fatherhood role is going to be a balancing act. I have to thwart her anarchic drives just enough so that she survives to grow into an independent young woman, but not enough to ever break her spirit. Which I guess makes one more thing that I wasn't prepared for.

Man Cave

wounded beast and workshop (front/side), originally uploaded by Subway eg

I love my family very much, but sometimes a husband needs to escape for a while, to take refuge in a place of his own. A place where he is free to be a man. "The distinguishing feature of the Man Cave," according to the Man Page, "is that it is designed (and decorated) by the man and for the man - basically all of the things that the woman in your life refuses to have in the rest of the house... like a poker table, sports memorabilia, video games, or even a personal keg-o-rator."

I don't have an area like this, and with a newborn in the house I'd never use it, but maybe someday. My ideal space would be an actual cave--or at least a cellar--where I could store a supply of wine and fine beers. I suppose I'd also want a wet bar for serving mixed drinks to visitors. It would be furnished with a few plush armchairs and tasteful artwork.

That's the fantasy, anyway. In reality, I would be quite satisfied with a well-appointed workshop/garage. What's in your man cave?


Tango, originally uploaded by Shabok

My sister-in-law is coming over tomorrow to babysit for a couple of hours. Ashley is now five weeks old and this is the first time we will be alone without her. It is a much-appreciated opportunity to relax and reconnect with my wife.

Even though Ashley has been a good baby, the past few weeks have been intense, as I'm sure is the case for any new parents. We're both stressed out, and I miss my wife!

You know what they say, it takes two to tango and three's a crowd. Now it's just the two of us for a little while. We can dance passionately again, or we could go out to eat at a real restaurant, or hang out a bookstore. No matter how we spend the (very brief) time away, I look forward to simply enjoying each others' company like we used to do.


my happy place, originally uploaded by pstarr

Do you want to be happy? Gretchen at The Happiness Project recommends practical methods for capturing happiness in daily life. One of these is the concept of personal "commandments," a list of basic, high-level rules that you voluntarily choose to follow. They are, as Gretchen puts it, "precepts that I want to guide my actions and thoughts."

Here are my eight commandments, not necessarily for happiness only, but for life in general:

  1. Love God.
  2. Love others.
  3. Take time to listen.
  4. Live now.
  5. Calm down.
  6. Create.
  7. Go outside.
  8. Simplify.

I might go into more detail on some or all of these in the future. If you think that such a list--or at least the exercise of creating one--might be useful to you, here are six tips for designing your own happiness commandments.


7-31-05 Happyface, originally uploaded by Artbandito

She smiled at me!

Of course Ashely had a few baby gas moments that would curl the ends of her lips in a pseudo-grin while her eyes stared vacantly into space. Those were cute, but very brief and random. Then, one day when she was around 3 1/2 weeks old, she started actually smiling at us. For reals. I'm talking eye contact, open mouthed, reactive smiles.

This is something new. Interacting with a newborn isn't very rewarding socially, unless you love the sound of your own voice. Now we're entering the 2-way street of communication.

I'm always happy to see my family after a long day at the office, of course. But now I can come home from work, smile at my daughter, and she smiles back. And that makes all the difference in the world.


(.) (.), originally uploaded by theshanghaieye

Our baby is noisy now. Sometimes Ashley makes a sound just like a little piglet rooting around. Although my wife doesn't like comparisons to barnyard animals, I mean it in a good way. I think her grunting is cute. As is the loud slurping when she's sucking on something. The crying and screaming? Not so cute.

She was so quiet at first. Every day, the volume knob is turned a little higher, and she expands her verbal repertoire. This one is my favorite. She gathers all her energy with a noise that sounds like an impending sneeze, but culminates in a belted-out coo. "rrrnnngGUHHH!" All the while with a surprised look on her wide-open eyes.

I doubt there's any conscious intent behind it, and yet, it almost sounds like she's trying to communicate through sheer force of will. Especially when she stares at me like that. Soon enough, little critter, soon enough.


Meditation, originally uploaded by Robot Monster

גם זה יעבור
"This too shall pass."

It is said an Eastern monarch once charged his wise men to invent him a sentence, to be ever in view, and which should be true and appropriate in all times and situations. They presented him the words: "And this, too, shall pass away." How much it expresses! How chastening in the hour of pride! How consoling in the depths of affliction!

-Senator Abraham Lincoln, 1859

I have repeated this useful phrase for many years. It does not only help during the bad times; mindfulness of impermanence also ennobles the great transcendental experiences of life. Be conscious of temporary blessings. Fully enjoy this moment, for it will never return.

Daddy Drinks: Moscow Mule

Okay, so you made a batch of ginger beer, and your guests are getting weary of the Dark and Stormy every time they come to visit. Here's another cocktail you can mix up with your homebrew for a bit of variety.

Moscow Mule (pour over ice):

  • 1 part vodka
  • 1 part lime juice
  • 3 parts ginger beer
  • dash Angostura Bitters

The Moscow Mule gets its name from the "kick" of ginger, plus the fact that it's built on vodka, a traditionally Russian liquor. And speaking of tradition, it was originally served in a copper mug. You can buy one of these specialty flagons if you want to serve the drink properly, but they cost a ... pretty penny?


Subaru Impreza WRC - 2007 Portugal, originally uploaded by pedro vidigal

Ashley loves to move. When she is crying for no reason--i.e. she doesn't need to eat, sleep, or be changed-- there are a few ways to console her. Swaddling, shushing, and laying her on her side have worked wonders. But the most consistently effective method is simply to pick her up and move her around.

She's unlikely to make a fuss as long as she's going somewhere. This is true whether I'm carrying her while doing chores around the house, going for a walk outside, or strapping her into the car seat for a ride. Start the engine, and the crying stops.

I'm so proud. Besides the uncanny physical resemblance, this is the first evidence I can cite as proof that she has inherited something from her father. Exhibit A: both dad and baby are happy when they're on the go. No sitting still for this daughter of a motorcycle-riding, international-traveling man!

The Crying Game

Having problems with a crying baby? Overcompensating has the answer! Now I am not saying that using drugs as an escape is a wise decision. I am just saying that any solution, no matter how temporary or ill-advised, starts to look very tempting when that baby just won't stop crying.

Don't do drugs, kids. Crack is wack.

Hot Rod Pedal Car

When a hot rodder, a toy designer, and a custom car painter get together to make a toddler gift, this is what happens. While gazing in awe, I began to wonder: if I owned such a thing of beauty, would I let my daughter have it?

More photos here.


Morning Burst, originally uploaded by .droog

In my last post, I wrote about my determination to be a better husband and father. That's fine in theory, but what does it actually mean in practice?

The key is living consciously. Rather than sleepwalking through life, as I did more or less for my first three weeks of parenthood, I want to be fully present in the moment, aware of and available to my wife and daughter. I am striving for an intentional marriage.

Dr. Corey Allan expounds on this concept over at the Simple Marriage Project. One of the key points is that children benefit from a strong marriage, which is why I'm focused on maintaining a healthy relationship with my wife right now. When the baby seems to demand all of our attention, it's important to remember that we need to take care of each other, as well.


HoodPANsm, originally uploaded by design_ski

What is the most important thing in your life? We each have a mental ranking of personal priorities that may not match up with the way we actually live. The evidence is in our actions. Am I behaving in a way that's consistent with my goals, or is what I do in opposition to what I believe?

The funny thing is that it's obvious to others where my priorities lie... the hard part is to figure it out for myself. In order to do this, I have to examine my life with detachment. I need to figure out, objectively, first what my goals are; second, whether my day-to-day activity is moving me closer to or further away from those goals; and third, what must change in order to bring my life in line with my stated goals. (I'm sure I learned how to do this from Zen Habits.)

I bring this up because I had a revelation. I would say that my primary responsibility is to my wife and child, but do my actions always show this? They might say otherwise. (At least my wife could tell you now; Ashley will tell her therapist in twenty years.) So I made a resolution--which I'm sharing publicly to give it some weight--to renew my commitment to be a good husband and a great, savvy dad.

What's the deal with...

Elmo Loves You!, originally uploaded by Sofia Katariina

Why do they print images of cartoon characters on newborn diapers? The baby obviously doesn't care. It's all the same to her whether she poops on Elmo or Dora (or directly on her parents--but that's another story).

Does a tiny picture of a muppet's face signify "quality" to diaper-buying parents? Or are we just being primed to recognize these characters, so that we will more readily accept them when our children are old enough to know the difference, and begin to insist on branded merchandise? You decide!


early morning, originally uploaded by hkvam

In the months BC (Before Child), I was focused completely on the upcoming birth. It so fully dominated my attention, in fact, that I developed sort of a tunnel vision obscuring any thoughts of life beyond labor and delivery. Now that I'm able to look back on that milestone, I can look forward to the future once more.

My brains were scrambled in the wake of the arrival. I think I did an acceptable job of taking care of my family, but I wasn't good for much else. I was basically floating along in a new-dad funk until I had an epiphany yesterday. Our baby has been around for three weeks already, I have a to-do list a mile long, and I had might as well get on with living again.

Choose life!


A cottage treaure is the view..., originally uploaded by **Mary**

It's been three weeks now since our daughter "Ashley" was born, and my priorities shifted again. Just like last time, I have been so awestruck that I don't really know what to say. Having a baby is a profound experience. I am so busy living it, that I am having trouble observing and unpacking it.

But I need to get this down for posterity. Otherwise I know I'll regret it later. While in Japan, I lived fully in the moment, at the expense of journalling. Then I got home and within a couple of weeks started wishing I had kept better records. "Did I visit that temple? What was the name of the train I rode every day? I think I remember how to cook okonomiyaki..."

I'd hate to make the same mistake twice. Already our little one is changing, and it's hard to believe it now, but everyone tells me that she will grow up fast. At that time, I want to look back and remember:

  • she was very alert at birth, and looked at everything with wide-open eyes.

  • her cone-head rounded out within a day, leading people to ask if she was a c-section, but

  • she is still rocking a bitchin' baby mullet.

  • when she squeaks, it sounds like air being let out of a balloon.

  • her neck is so strong; she loves to arch her back and bang her head against my chest.

I love her very much. The end.

Penny Arcade: incidental dad talk in the PA podcast

Penny Arcade, originally uploaded by mjp3000

Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik (a.k.a. Tycho and Gabe) are probably best known for making the online comic Penny Arcade. What doesn't get much press is that the two men are also parents, both having fathered a child with their respective wives in the past few years.

Obviously there's a reason they don't talk about it much--their comics are mostly about video games, not parenthood--but sometimes their sons come up in conversation. As you might expect from guys who make a living by finding humor in every occasion, they usually say something interesting. On a recent podcast, Jerry recounted the following conversation with his son Eliot:

He began to move his hand in a way as though he had a sword in it, and he said, "daddy," and I said, "yes Eliot," and he said, "what is a weapon?" ... all the while slicing the air with this imaginary blade...

I said, "Eliot, a weapon is a tool, that you can use to hurt someone." Accurate, no information--you know what I'm saying--no contextualization, but that's what it is. "What is a weapon?" Where the fuck did that come from?

Jerry reliably dishes out abstrusity in his blog posts, so it is to be expected that he would have such profound discussions in his daily life as well. On the funny side, Mike wrote this great rant on Lego fruit snacks (scroll down a bit). "I just spent the first three years of my sons life trying to get him not to eat blocks," he says, "and now you're telling him they taste like fucking strawberries. Thanks a lot assholes."

It would be great if these guys could do a great podcast that's just about fatherhood. I might be the only one to listen to it, but I bet it would be awesome.

Don't Panic

freak out, originally uploaded by bunchofpants

Before my daughter was born, I would have said that I felt pretty sanguine and peaceful about the whole deal. As it turned out, there must have been some internal physiological terror that I wasn't aware of, because I had a minor panic attack a few days before labor began.

I was just sitting and watching TV. All of a sudden, my chest felt very tight, and I couldn't breathe for a second. Then I caught my breath, and the constriction gradually faded away.

My wife told me that I had scared her, and warned me not to have another incident during her labor. Out of respect for her, I refrained from having any more involuntary freakouts ever since.