Someday Never Comes


Some of you may already know already that my day job is not a day job. It is, in fact, a nights & weekends job. I’m one of those lucky perpetual adolescents who can make a living doing theater. This means none of my pants are new, I know which Ramen is the good Ramen, and my work schedule ebbs & flows like the leak in my water filter. Once every other month or so I work like a madman for 2 weeks, then we open the play and everything settles into a routine, and I work more like a congressman.

For those two weeks of crazy, everything gets put off like a supreme court nominee. Sleep? After opening night. Dishes? After opening night. Laundry? Well, look who thinks he’s the queen of England. Shall I fetch the stain stick your majesty?

All this is by way of saying that I’m professionally suited to putting stuff off. To everything there is a season. And that season is after opening night, dammit.

This life-triage gets plenty of use as a parent. Except instead of “after opening night” it’s either “after he goes to sleep” or “sometime in the next 20 years.”

I remember that first month back to work after Little Man made his entrance (or, technically, his exit) into the world. If I showed up to work on time, fully dressed and functionally awake, everything else could wait.

And now for something completely different.

A few months ago there was a huffpo article making the rounds on the facetagrams and the chatsnaps. It basically told all the creative types to chill out. If you’re having writer’s block, then relax, wait, you’re inspiration just hasn’t come. If you’re struggling with a painting that’s not coming together, then it just isn’t the time. The planets – the article said, in so many words – may not be aligned for you know. Don’t worry about it, the article said. Things will get better for you, just wait. The article said.

Which is bullshit.

As a writer, I’m going to tell you something and I want you to hear me when I say this: never, ever give a writer an excuse not to write. We have those. We have all of those already. If you’re having writer’s block, the last thing you should do is not write. What you need to do is not think. Copy somebody else’s stuff for a couple pages, write stream of consciousness, write what you’ve already written backwards. Work the muscle lightly till the cramp clears. If you don’t think your novel is any good, then write a bad novel. Write the worst novel known to literature. Because, unlike waiting for your inspiration, at the end of the process at least you will have written a novel.

And I’d extend this to painting, or wood-turning, or seed-portraiture or whatever discipline you’re in: if you’re struggling while making art, then make more art. Make crappy art fast and in great quantities for no one but yourself. Life will change – whatever circumstances you think are blocking you will change eventually. But then something else will come up, and instead of developing habits and routines and tricks that keep you creating you’ve been waiting for the damn planets to align.

Which brings us back to parenting.

There is no excuse like a baby. Especially for the introvert home body. Hygiene, appearance, courtesy, coherent speech – failures in any or all of these areas can totally be excused by a baby. Basically, a baby lets you look and act like a homeless dude.

And you can ride that train. It’s there. You earned it. But I found, as I was out in the world, interacting with other humans, that patience, like toilet paper, will eventually run out. And, like toilet paper, it never happens at a good time. There is no answer to the baby card once it’s played, it is the crane kick to vanquish all cobra kai. But only a jerk walks around in crane stance waiting to drop people.

There comes a time for every parent when the kid can no longer be an excuse for not having your act together. That time can be when the kid’s 18. Or when he’s 8. Or when he’s 8 months. There’s no right answer here, but, as with creating art, if you’re waiting for things to get better, they won’t. You’re always gonna worry. You’ll never have enough sleep again. The list of household chores, and emails/texts/calls to return, the pile of dishes – it never gets shorter, not for more than a few hours. It’s not about the circumstances changing, it’s about you. It’s about digging deeper, adding 5 minutes on to your allotted commute to make sure the stains are small and mostly out of sight. It’s about taking time after work to hang out with your coworkers even though you’ll be up in 4 hours. It’s about being a guy who supports the people around him rather than someone needing support.

And it sucks. And it can only be accomplished in tiny, steady steps.

I think what that huffpo article was trying (and failing) to do was teach people to forgive themselves. I think, as parents, we come to drown ourselves in the needs of others, in the expectations of lists and bills and obligations. It’s a drastic thing to completely surrender the idea that your life is about you, instead of this other little person. And eventually you do catch up to yourself, and then you try to implement these changes that I’m talking about. You try to return to some semblance of functional adult. And I’m just gonna tell you now: you’re going to fail. You’re gonna fail a bunch. It’s gonna be like junior high again. But it’s okay. Forgive yourself. Everybody fails. Batman failed, like, lots of times. Try again. Keep trying. Everybody’s trying, nobody really has it figured out, they’ve just been trying for longer.

But don’t wait for the perfect set up. It’s not coming. Anybody who tells you different is over 40 and does their parents’ laundry for an allowance.


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I Always Feel Like Somebody’s Watching Me


Whenever I watch one of those Marvel SHIELD movies with the flying command centers and the jive talking robots I always cringe. But not in the places you’d think.

Anytime Samuel L Jackson talks to the computer, or somebody monkeys with some touchy-glass-holographic-interface-thing, I just think what a bitch that must be when it freezes up. You gotta turn it off and then wait a few seconds and then turn it back on again. Meanwhile Hydra’s gone and… the dark elves are…or, um aliens, I forget who’s gonna destroy the world this time. Or you say “shields!” but the newest upgrade has a bug in it and thinks you said “Biel!” and so does a search on Jessica Biel. On like, Bing, because who’s got time to reset the factory default?

And that’s just how it will break, that’s not even getting into Mr. SHIELD computer presenting Samuel L Jackson with different eyepatch manufacturer options based on his previous orders.

All this “smart,” cloud-based tech, all this business of your phone talking to your car or your fridge or your pants, it all just peppers me with angst, reduces me to a pimento loaf of misery. I’m not overly given to paranoia, but I shudder at the thought of all the eyes and algorithms keeping tabs on me and my browsering.

Of course, this whole fear of constant observation is a little odd considering I’m a parent. You want constant observation? Live with a baby.

The first time we sat little Man down at the table, he picked up his little spoon in his little paw, he scooped up some mashed avocado and popped it into his mouth. No one taught him that. No one explained it to him. They are always watching, cataloguing, filing away those things you do unconsciously so they can try it out later, when they have full control of their fingers.

If you’re lucky, if you’ve done the hard work on the ground, your kid might listen to you, might do what you say. But whether they listen to you or not, I absolutely guarantee that they will do what they see you do.

I see it in myself, a mixed-trait smoothie of both parents. If you can’t see it in yourself then you haven’t looked.

It becomes quite a rabbit hole, entirely apart from the nature vs. nurture discussion. Just the question of how far back, exactly, does my nose-picking tendency go? How many of my grandfathers before me didn’t answer questions if they were thinking about something? Is there some county in West Ireland where it first occurred to somebody to martyr themselves by not letting anyone else do any dishes?

But so listen, though. Reality is reality, and whatever it might do to your great-great-granddaughter’s ability to negotiate the sale of her start-up, the Little Man’s gotta have pants on if he’s going to get on the bus, on way or another. We can’t become paralyzed by the generational ramifications of every dumb tic we have. At the same time, our choices, our words, our actions all have effects, sometimes far reaching. Abuse begets abuse, self and otherwise.

My son is watching me when we’re out in the world. How I, as a man, treat women will influence how he, as a man, treats women as he grows older. If he has a son, then how I act towards women here, now, will affect how women are treated 50 years from now.

This kind of responsibility can be overwhelming, but then with great responsibility comes great power. All the dickish behavior I see in the world, all manner of pettiness and stupidity, it’s all within my power to counteract. If I show my son that I’m not a victim of my environment, if I teach him to act, not react, not to make excuses and not to give anyone else any either. If I can do this, then maybe my grandchildren can look back at my time with the uncomprehending disgust with which my generation views Jim Crow America.

And so, now that it’s almost 2am, and Little Man’s asleep. I’ll just watch a quick episode of Jersey Shore and then delete my browser history. I have to be the man I want him to be.

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Be Prepared

When I was a younger, more fiscally solvent man I spent a year teaching in Bangkok, Thailand. I was just out of college, full of debt and pretense but largely free of stuff. Moving from dorm room to dorm room for four years doesn’t encourage a fella to accumulate much beyond tolerance for squalor.

When I moved across 2 continents and an ocean for no less than a year, I traveled with 2 big duffel bags and a guitar case. There’s something exciting about traveling light – a little scary, a little bold. Every pair of underwear you leave at home gets you closer to Rambo.

If I had it to do over again, I’d pack even less. Like towels. I brought towels. Why did I bring towels? Thailand has towels. I can confirm this. One thing I didn’t bring was a first aid kit.

I don’t think I’ve ever packed a first aid kit on a trip.

I bring this up because I was on a trip to the University of MN Landscape Arboretum recently and we’d packed a first aid kit. And we needed it.

Here’s the story – Little Man’s first grade class was on a field trip. I was given the honor of chaperoning. One of the kids to a spill and did a face plant into gravel. Bumps occurred, bandages were administered, and the day was ours

This all drove home a fact which I’d often observed but never articulated: I moved to Bangkok. Bangkok. For a year. And I did it in 2 duffel bags. Today, my family of 3 will go for an overnight at the grandparents’ in the same amount of luggage. If not more.

It’s easy to be distressed by this until you realize it’s all a matter of expectation, a matter of what’s reasonable.

When you’re an adult, traveling alone or with other adults, it’s reasonable to expect that you won’t be bleeding from your head. Unless you’re going to Syria. It’s also reasonable to expect that neither you nor your companions will poop your pants.

When you travel with someone who only recently needed two hands to show you their age, it is not reasonable to expect such things. It is not advisable. You are courting disaster. Don’t f**king do it, is what I’m saying.

You pack differently depending on what you expect. How you pack for work is not how you pack for the zombie apocalypse. Even if you’re resourceful, you want to be prepared. If MacGuyver and Jason Bourne had a kid they would have a diaper bag, at least one change of clothes, (for the kid, maybe a shirt for themselves), a wet bag, a snack, a few towels/rags, the requisite toys, and coffee just to go on a grocery run.

Any parent will testify – you don’t have to be a boy scout, but you damn well better be prepared.


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Honor Has No Place At A Sleepover

There’s a moment at the end of Christopher Nolan’s Batman: The Dark Knight, where Batman signs up to take the fall for Harvey Dent’s death (and all the mess that led up to it). He does it to keep Dent’s name clean, Jim Gordon’s name clean, the entire Gotham PD free from controversy, and because he, as a vigilante outside the law, can shoulder it best. This scene was the lead up to the quote: “He’s the hero Gotham deserves, but not the one it needs right now. So we’ll hunt him. Because he can take it. Because he’s not our hero. He’s a silent guardian, a watchful protector. A dark knight.”

This might be, for my money, the single most awesome thing about Batman as a character. It’s also the reason Genghis Khan conquered the known world, and why capitalism is so unstoppable. Because Batman, like the Mongols and moguls, doesn’t care what you think of him as long as he achieves his mission.

And this does apply to Fatherhood, but just let me talk about ninjas and samurais.

Yes, it does illustrate the point I’m making.

Also yes, I just want to talk about ninjas and samurais.

Ninjas – historical ninjas, not the turtle kind – didn’t fight that much. They had all the cool weapons, yes, and they had their martial arts yes, but mainly ninjas were spies and saboteurs. Like the CIA, or the guy running sound for Smashmouth, you would only notice them when they messed something up. This is in stark contrast to the samurai, who were all about honor and codes and their (and their family) names. For a samurai, winning a battle was good and all, but if they died in some spectacularly bushido fashion, that was almost just as good, if not better.

But honor has no place at a sleepover.

When you have two boys playing the jungle explorer game with the monkeys and the magic bracelet and the sound device weapon, you are not in a situation for high ideals. The simple dirty truth is that somebody has to “get,” and somebody has to be “gotten,” and you’ve got two little minds who are used to being the one to make up the rules. No matter how good each boy is at sharing (and they are both incredibly good at sharing) sooner or later feelings are hurt and the first sleepover ever ends with ignominy and ruin.

Now, the Samurai Papa would have no time for changing the rules, would have no tolerance for protests from a boy who lost the magic bracelet one time too many. No. A Samurai Papa would get all “teachable moment” on this, and monkeys and explorers would play nicely or all the toys would be put away and we’d do pushups and count staples until we learned the lessons of equitability in play.

I, however, am not a follower of the way of the samurai. No sensei. The mission is fun, and like the Iga, the Koga, and the Watchful Protector of Gotham City, I’ll take the fall so the mission can be achieved. He’s the papa this sleepover deserves, but not the one it needs right now. So we’ll jump on him. We’ll hit him with the sound device weapon, because he can take it. Because he’s not our teacher, he’s our sleepy guardian, our hungry protector. Our dork knight.


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The Banana Game


“Rainbow Monkey and Good Old Gorilla don’t know anything. And Owl knows everything. And I’m Rainbow Monkey and You’re Owl and Good Old Gorilla”

These are the instructions I’m given. We did just play this game 15 minutes ago, but it’s important that continuity is maintained.

It’s always interesting to dig into the Little Man’s games. There was one routine we had called “The Unkind Game” where one of his toy cars (often the white van. That damn white van) would refuse to be safe around the toy railroad tracks, and would consequently get bonked by the train.

It goes without saying that he played the train, and I, the truculent hot wheels.

There were a few variations on this game – one toy was behaving badly, and others would be frustrated and have to try to get the offender to shape up.

These games can, in theory, be little developmental diagnostics. Play is so integral to learning and growth – even tag, maybe the simplest of all games helps coordination and body-kinesthetic intelligence. Not to mention burning off the endless fountain of energy possessed by the little bastards. And even beyond development, play can be a method for processing new emotions or information. A five-year-old likely won’t sit down to talk through some unresolved conflict in their day, but they may act it out with stuffed monkeys.

And there have been other imaginative play games I’ve done with the little man that ended up with just him holding forth on some of his favorite topics – insects, spiders, trains, what have you. Some “Little-Mansplaining,” if you will. Obnoxious in an adult, but in a little guy who spends his days being corrected and directed and under the control of people bigger than him, it can be a way to get a little agency, build a little self-confidence.

So I was curious to see what the Banana Game (as it has since been monikered) would play out to be.

Then he started flinging his monkey around shouting “BANANAS! BANANAS! BANANAS!”

That was the game. The entire game.

I’m not exaggerating.

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For The Win

A friend told me a story once of an incident when he was in high school. He was sitting at his desk, sketching something, when the boy in front of him turned around to see what he was doing.

The boy in front of him, it should be said, was a football player.

My friend, it should be said, was (and continues to be) a nerd.

“What are you doing?” asked the boy.

“Drawing.” responded my friend.

“Why?” asked the boy, incredulous, “you can’t win at drawing!”


All the things you forget as an adult, or at least stop thinking about: how to poop while walking, how to slip effortlessly back into playing after you were weeping and wailing over whatever injustice befell you a minute ago, or why did I come into this room in the first place? It had something to do with cowboys.

It wasn’t until my little dude started running on his own, and thus wanted to race me constantly that I was reminded in no uncertain terms how vital was the toddler’s need to win.

Toddlers and wookies, everything goes smoother when they don’t lose.

I get the drive to win – I grew up in the U.S.A, I played Mariokart. I understand the idea of wanting to be, if not the best, then better than the other schmucks on Luigi’s Raceway.

But with little kids it’s almost pathological – they don’t want to win, they need to win. It doesn’t matter if he’s running against Usain Bolt, or swimming against the Sharktopus, if a 4 year old loses a race the best you can hope for is pouting. The Little Man has never in his life played a game of checkers. We break it out, I show him how to set it up, explain the rules to him, and despite the fact that he didn’t have the first idea how to play it not 2 minutes ago, if he doesn’t win the first three matches he may never play the damn game again.

It even goes as far as jokes. Little kids will try to win jokes. I had one boy lay out his strategy for beating the “interrupting cow/starfish/howler monkey” series of knock-knock jokes.

I think this is natural and harmless as far as things go. Though there is the school of thought that you shouldn’t let a child win. That you need to challenge them, instill a work ethic and a drive, make them earn their achievements.

There is such a school of thought, but this school of thought can suck it.

The world will beat my kid up. The world will challenge him and frustrate him and it will, I’m sure, do a more thorough job than I ever could. No. I’m just fine with losing. I’ve had plenty of practice and if I do say so myself, am quite accomplished at it. Reference the “nerd” in the title of this blog.

No, with Papa, it’s just gonna be fun. Races, wrestling matches, hide and seek – I’m perfectly content to find new and interesting ways to lose for a few more years. At least until we start playing Mariokart, then shit’s gonna get real.



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The Narwhal

It’s a strange cross section of humanity, is the Kindergarten class.

You see these humans, mostly without the scars and fears, without the protective armor that life sets on you. They haven’t made many big choices yet, haven’t failed (or succeeded) at the tests that give our lives their courses. Mostly. Some have faced tests at 6 that I haven’t yet at 40.

But in some ways they’re fully formed as well. There’s no mistaking the people they are and will become if you watch them. At their core they are fully realized members of the species who just need a little more practice.

And you also get to see them at both their best and worst. Sometimes in the same 60 seconds. If the school is good and the teacher knows her stuff, the kids will mostly try to follow the rules. They’ll want to. But they’re six years old – impulse control isn’t a major strength for a kindergartner.

If you ever question how genetically similar we are to a chimpanzee, come to kindergarten lunch on pancake day. All you need is the last five minutes – it’s like Lord of the Flies with Yogurt tubes.

But so I’ve gotten to spend some time with Little Man’s class. Lunch, field trips, any chance I get to volunteer I usually do. And now, by June, I have a read on all of them. Not only do I know all their names, not only do they all know me, but I know the smart ones , the dumb ones, I know the ones who don’t get enough attention at home but are basically good kids, and the ones who get too much attention at home and are nothing special, really. I know the kids who are rowdy because they’re bored, rowdy because they’re rowdy, and rowdy because they’re just little shits. I know the ones to watch, and I know the ones I could give a thousand dollars, a chainsaw, and a tank of propane and tell them to meet me in Chicago and they’d show up.

And there’s one guy I know who both fascinates and terrifies me. I’ll call him The Narwhal, for reasons obvious only to me.


I sometimes wonder if I’m on the Autism spectrum. I’m a big one, historically, for “supposed to.” Rules have always been very concrete for me.  It’s been the work of my 20’s and 30’s to really comprehend in a visceral practical way just how arbitrary this whole thing is. Just how few consequences there actually are and how we mostly impose these on ourselves. It’s been kind of the “Enlightenment for Dummies” version of what happens to the character in Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta.

Which is why I worry about someone who’s figured this out before he hits first grade.

The Narwhal.

He’s not a bad guy. He’s not on the shortlist of kids you keep in sight on the field trip. He’s very likely never been to the principal’s office, or had a major (for Kindergarten) disciplining. Which, in a way, makes it more frightening.

And I don’t want to make him out as a complete sociopath. Yet. He’s got plenty of time to grow into it.

But he’s not a little Hannibal Lector, wondering how you’d taste on animal crackers. It’s just that as an authority figure with no real authority, he sees right through me in a way other kids don’t. He follows the rules not because he wants to, or has to, but because it’s the most convenient path at this point. He’s already at school, got pants on and everything, he might as well throw his milk carton away, I guess. Any time I try to call him on something I get the sense that if this ever really starts to chafe, he’s just going to walk out the front door and hitch hike to Disney world. It’s like riding a horse with reins made of paper.

Or I could be projecting. This also happens.

Either way, if anything happens, I promise to let you know.



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