That Embarrassing Photo

We’ve all had these moments of discovery. You’re  looking for a particular photograph or group of photos and unintentionally come across the one that makes you smile, laugh, or wince in pain. In any case, you probably replied with “oh yeah, I forgot about that”.

I just had one of those moments. While trying to find a photo from my wedding, I also discovered some photos from the day my son was born. Among those precious images was something that started me laughing and I finally said, “oh yeah, I forgot about that”.

I took a picture of my son’s first poop.
(No, I will not be including it in this blog.)

You see, I take a lot of pride in all of the wonderful firsts I’ve experienced with my son. I was there for his first breath, cut the cord, gave him his first bath, cleaned his first poop, drove him on his first car ride, and many others. For reasons of whimsy, pride, and goofiness, I made sure to capture his first poop for posterity.

Will this eventually end up in front of his future fiancé? Perhaps. Will it be something I treasure despite its contents? Absolutely. Homeruns, science fairs, or poops, I relish the wonderful and unique moments I will share with my son.

Too Young For A Dragon

I could probably be more precise with the title by including the word “movie” at the end, but that doesn’t really sound quite as captivating. Some of you were probably wondering how I might get my son a dragon in the first place. But that shouldn’t be your question. Your actual question should be pondering what dragon eggs taste like when they’re cooked over-easy and flavored with a medium salsa. So let me just tell you – delicious!

How To Train Your DragonMy young lad has had a real craving for dragon stories lately. A few months ago he asked my wife and I to tell him stories and we both -independently- made up stories about dragons. A couple weeks ago he saw the Angry Birds Seasons 2012 trailer on YouTube and was fascinated to see a dragon as part of the story.

So, naturally, I thought he might enjoy seeing Dreamworks’ animated picture “How to Train Your Dragon”. I heard great reviews and thought it could be a fun family film for the three of us to enjoy.

Thankfully I noticed it was rated PG so my wife and I previewed the film before showing it to him. Despite the fun story line, great comedy, and beautiful artwork, the film contains quite a few dramatic and scary images…far too scary for an impressionable three year old.

My review of the “How to Train Your Dragon” is that it is extremely well done. Unfortunately, its too intense for my son. So we’ll wait a while until he can enjoy the film rather than conjure nightmares from it.

Top 2 Ads Are All About Dads

Too often the dad blogger community is sidelined and ridiculed as a fad, a reaction to the success of mom blogging, or just something for crazy guys who aren’t masculine enough. ProActiveDads was not only built as a response to those inaccurate criticisms, but also because we collectively understand the importance of media and stereotyping on today’s culture and society.

With all of that in mind, we are extremely grateful to see the fruits of dad bloggers (and, indeed, all involved fathers) finally seeing some incredible dividends in today’s media environment!

TIME Magazine recently compiled their “Top 10 of Everything” lists and one of the categories was “TV Ads”. Great dad portrayals not only made the list twice, but they were the top two ads of the year!

Google’s ad for their relatively new Chrome internet browser shows how a new father documents the life of his young daughter through the power of Google’s tools on the internet, especially GMail. Its a heartwarming piece and an accurate portrayal of how dads don’t have to do everything like moms. We have our own ways of being involved that are just as precious as scrapbooking.

http://youtu.be/wHBQ25-uMYs

The second best TV ad of the year was the first-rated ad from this year’s Super Bowl: The Force – Volkswagen. Dads have awesome ways to be cool and make tremendous impacts in the lives of their children and Volkswagen USA captured that beautifully.

If you don’t think a revolution in parenting is occurring, clearly you aren’t seeing some of the positive changes in the media around you!

Ragu Hates Dads

“When the moon hits your eye, like a big pizza pie, that’s…” a mess that will definitely stain your shirt. It is also descriptive of a recent social media failure executed by Ragu.

Beginning in March of 2011 Ragu began creating videos to target the mom blogging community and get opinions about dinner time. The goal was to tap into the conversation about dinner, cooking, and healthy choices. And in the last couple of months they began to reach beyond their target mom audience and began spamming dad bloggers on Twitter hoping they would join the conversation. Unfortunately for Ragu, they sent links to a video that played on an old and offensive stereotype: the hapless dad!

As you might imagine, dads joined the conversation. Ragu was publicly flogged for their inept usage of social media, their offensive video, and their long period of time without any response to the dad blogging community. Overall, I don’t think Ragu won over any dads to their side of the aisle. If anything, guys like me -who cook and do grocery shopping- will be buying Prego or making more homemade sauces in the future.

My wife and I both cook for the family. We’re both good at it and we put a lot of effort into giving our son a variety of healthy and flavorful options. So yes, on behalf of all awesome dads who cook, I found the video offensive and such tired use of inaccurate stereotypes is one of the reasons I founded ProActiveDads. I’ve got no issue with Ragu targeting and praising moms. But don’t do it at the expense of dads. Our kids deserve better representations of respect and parenting.

Fatherhood Fact: According to a 2011 study of 2,400 men in the United States, more than 50% of men ages 18-64 identify themselves as the primary grocery shopper in their household.

Interview with "Big In China" Author Alan Paul

Alan Paul with kidsI was fortunate enough to meet dad, author, columnist, and famous Beijing band frontman Alan Paul via email a few months ago. He’s a seemingly normal enough guy who just happens to be famous. When we began our email chats, he told me he had a book coming out soon and thought the ProActiveDads audience might be interested. When he told me about the book, I thought he was right.

A copy of the book was sent to me for review and I had a great time turning those pages as I became more and more interested with each adventure in his story. A stay-at-home dad who wrote for Guitar World and Slam magazines choosing to support his wife’s blossoming career and move their entire family to Beijing. Interesting enough, but it is enhanced by his process of self-discovery, commitment to his family, and the eventual honor of being Beijing’s most popular band! All-in-all, not a shabby list of accomplishments for a guy with three kids living in a foreign country and still learning the language.

From Buddhist monks, dumpling recipes, dads with cancer, a busy wife, and interviews with the rich and famous, the book was entertaining from start to finish. Upon finishing, I took a few moments to interview Alan and can now share those insights with you.

Nathan Greenberg: The book has been out just over a month. With all due sarcasm, “anything interesting happen lately”?

Alan Paul: The book came out March 1 and it has been a roller coaster. I was ready to really get busy promoting the book, but I did not anticipate getting a movie deal so quickly and that would involve or becoming Panda Dad and all that would entail.

It’s all good and no complaints whatsoever, but this stuff took a lot of time and energy and I am really exhausted and have not had much time to process it all. I have, however, tried my best to enjoy the ride. I am looking forward to spending a lot of time with my kids next week. They are out of school and I am off the road. 

NG: Getting into the book: You talk about your idyllic life in Maplewood, but we don’t get the big picture of how your routine as a stay-at-home dad changed in China. Tell us more about being a stay-at-home dad BEFORE Beijing.

AP: Well, I have been a master juggler for years because I have always worked, but have done so on a freelance basis since before my kids were born. With my wife’s job always being demanding and requiring a lot of hours, I have been on the frontline of parenting. It has always been great and I have certainly never regretted my decisions, but as I went from one kid to three it became pretty difficult at times to juggle. I always had help, with the kids in day care or preschool and sometimes a nanny, which allowed me to keep working, but I did a lot of driving, homework, volunteering, coaching…

NG: (Personal note: you had my COMPLETE attention when you mentioned James Hetfield early in the book. I’m a Metallica fan.) Your writing contracts were with Guitar World and Slam. Did you ever discuss fatherhood with your interview subjects and what reactions/answers did you receive?

AP: Not in a really regular way, but sometimes there were openings to do that. I think it’s more like, becoming a parent and going through that life cycle allows you to complete your emotional journey and understand the world better, and in different ways and that impacts how you evaluate everything, including any art or music. And I have interviewed James and Kirk a bunch of times.

NG: Your life in China seemed almost like a fairy tale and you described it with similar terminology multiple times. Having a staff makes a huge difference in convenience. How did this new lifestyle effect your actions as a stay-at-home dad? How did it effect your perceptions of stay-at-home parenting?

AP: It’s not even fair to say. Having more help allows you to take a lot of the drudgery out of parenting, to do more fun stuff with your kids, to enjoy it all the time, because you don’t feel stuck. Honestly, it’s a beautiful thing.

But we always wanted to stay connected to our old life and to maintain strong bonds with our kids, so we did not have help on weekends or after 6 at night I know this sounds like nothing, but I know a lot of people who never put their kid to bed or did things together on weekends. We didn’t do that. 

NG: Descriptions of your father make him seem like a great guy and a positive influence on much of your development as a man. He comes from a generation of single-income males and a different sense of patriarchy. Did your SAHD status ever get discussed between the two of you?

AP: We have discussed it a bit over the years. My father is a pretty progressive guy in a lot of ways, but he has definitely struggled with our arrangement sometimes.  He can be a little old school and I think years ago it bothered him that I was home so much and not working as much as he would have liked.

I think that when I got to China and started writing my column and then all the other things fell into place, he understood it was sort of a payoff of my years of manning the fort. And really I had a creative awakening over there that began in large part because of my freedom to not work. To me, it felt like a reward and blessing accrued for being supportive of Rebecca’s career. But I was running around China having fun and reinventing myself while she worked 10-12 hours day, so who was doing the sacrificing? 

NG: China can present many challenges to Americans for religious, economic, political, health, and communication reasons. A few times you mention the difficulties that crossed your own mind before Rebecca took the job and during your time there. How have you addressed (if at all) the political and cultural differences with your kids, especially such hot topics as Tibetan oppression, no freedom of the press, one-party rule, wages, pollution, etc.

AP: We have tried to discuss a lot of these things with our kids in age-appropriate ways as they have gotten older. Other than the pollution, we didn’t discuss this stuff with them too much while we were there, mostly because they were too young. 

NG: Towards the end of the book you mention Rebecca’s discomfort at having her life chronicled by Alan Paul, the columnist and blogger. Have the two of you found greater comfort and reward as parents with the documentation of your lives or do you still struggle with a lack of privacy?

AP: She has had to adapt and is mostly fine with it. I do try to be sensitive to this, most importantly with her, of course, but really with anyone in my life. I never write about anyone without discussing it with them. The biggest hurdle for her was when I started writing my column for the WSJ.com and it was partly because everyone she worked with was reading it. She has always kept her professional and personal lives pretty separate. 

NG: How did you find time to be a stay-at-home dad while still taking bike rides, visiting monks, and covering the Olympics, and fronting “Beijing’s Best Blues Band”?

AP: Well, it’s not really fair to a fulltime SAHD to say I was doing the same thing. First of all, all of my kids were in school. Even the youngest, who was just two and half when we moved, went to preschool until about 2:30. I did a lot of the stuff, like the bike rides, temple visits, etc during the day while they were in school. Second of all, we did have a lot of help. I stayed very hands on and picked up the kids myself most days, but I had fallback options.

Also, the band really took off and became a more serious pursuit during my third year in Beijing, when everyone was pretty settled and the kids were two years older. I couldn’t have comfortably done it during my first and probably second years there. 

NG: Is there anything you would have done differently as a dad between 2005 and 2009?

AP: Wow. If I went back and revisited every day, I’m sure there are lots of little things. I think I would push Chinese study on my kids more aggressively if I could have a do-over. And I probably would have dragged them out to even more Beijing events.

NG: You are obviously a proud parent, but that is combined with an extensive media experience. Do media portrayals of fatherhood matter to you? Matter to your family? Is there anything you wish would change?

AP: Sort of. I am more concerned with the messages my kids receive, so it bothers me if they watch shows that portray parents as bumbling idiots and kids as sassy smart alecks. I see that dynamic all the time and I don’t like it and try to really reign in how much media they consume. I don’t get too worked up about how I see fathers being portrayed specifically, but it is annoying. If I had a little more free time to give this brain space, I could easily work up a head of steam.

NG: Do you have any updates on Yechen, your dad, Tom Davis, Woodie (and the band), and are you still practicing your Chinese?

AP: My dad is doing great. He has had no recurrences. I was in Pittsburgh on my book tour and we rode bikes to the Pirates home opener. That’s about six miles and I could barely keep up with him. Yechen and I are in regular but sporadic touch he has moved to Xi’an and is going back and forth to Huashan, the holy mountain. Tom Davis and his girls are doing great in Montana. We met up in Pittsburgh for a Steelers game last December and I hope to bring my family out to visit him this summer. Woodie has left Beijing and is back in his hometown of Langfang, so the band is no longer playing, but we are all in touch.

I have not had a Chinese lesson in a year, but Jacob., my eldest, and I are going to resume this fall. I have forgotten a lot, but it’s not all gone.

Alan Paul is the author Big In China (Harper) a memoir about raising three American children in Beijing and forming Woodie Alan, an award-winning blues band with three Chinese musicians. Ivan Reitman’s Montecito Pictures has optioned the film rights. He also penned the “Panda Dad” blog essay on WSJ.com. His book has been added to the exclusive ProActiveDads “Dad Books” list and is available for purchase at Amazon.com or any major bookstore. He recently posted a guest blog for ProActiveDads titled, “Embrace the Chaos: Keeping a Sense of Yourself”.

Embrace the Chaos: Keeping a Sense of Yourself

Alan PaulRaising children is a balancing act. The minute they are born they become the most important thing in your life. You are transformed – but you don’t disappear. Your own hopes, dreams, ambitions, desires don’t vanish into thin air and you will be a better parent if you manage to maintain your own individuality and follow your own passions while also nurturing theirs. Children will thrive with happy, fulfilled parents and they don’t need the pressure of carrying all your hopes and dreams.

It is a bit easier to maintain the juggle now that my children are a little older -aged 7, 10 and 13- and are all in school full time. I’ve been asked time and again how I’ve managed to balance childcare duties with my own writing and music career. There is no simple answer beyond being fully committed to doing so, and having a wife who has always understood my need to keep writing and keep playing guitar – keep being myself.

I’m writing this post right now on a computer precariously perched on my lap, sitting in a park in a fold-up chair as my 7-year-old daughter practices soccer on a field in front of me. I’m struggling to finish because when her practice ends in 10 minutes, we’ll go home, where my sons are hopefully finishing up their homework, and I’ll make dinner for them all. After we eat, I’ll leave the kids with a sitter and rush across town to discuss my book, Big in China, at some friends’ book club. When I get home, hopefully my wife – herself exhausted from a long day at work – will still be awake, so we might have a glass of wine and some time to talk.

It’s a hectic schedule and there are times when I toss so many balls in the air I fear they will all will come crashing down. But I don’t want to give anything up, so I’ve grown accustomed to living with a certain amount of insanity and have adopted a simple motto: Embrace the Chaos! I suggest you do the same.

Alan Paul is the author Big In China (Harper) a memoir about raising three American children in Beijing and forming Woodie Alan, an award-winning blues band with three Chinese musicians. Ivan Reitman’s Montecito Pictures has optioned the film rights. He also penned the “Panda Dad” blog essay on WSJ.com. His book has been added to the exclusive ProActiveDads “Dad Books” list and is available for purchase at Amazon.com or any major bookstore.

Choosing a Preschool: One Dad’s Story

PreschoolNo matter how many pictures I peruse or memories I revisit I can’t seem to figure out where the time has gone.  Two and a half years ago I became the proud dad of a beautiful baby girl.  This past autumn, she started going to preschool and took to it like a fish to water.  She started out going two days a week and we soon added a third.

As surprising as the monthly and even daily changes can be, perhaps there’s something to be said for looking back on how we got where we are – something I can share with other parents who are learning how to be a parent, too.  There isn’t any manual or guidebook that can tell you how to be a Pro-Active Dad, of course.  It will be different for every dad and for every child.  Still, I hope my thoughts on selecting a preschool will help others direct their searches.

My wife and I were very lucky in our search.  Our synagogue runs a semi-autonomous preschool program that starts for children as young as 12 months at the start of the school year.  Returning students and siblings get first priority on the spots, followed by synagogue members, and finally the rest of the community.  However, there are almost always a few open spaces so entrance isn’t competitive.

A few of the factors we considered in our search were price, program, schedule, facilities, and student to teacher ratio.

Preschool can be very pricey, as with almost everything related to child rearing these days.  Our synagogue’s price point was only about a third of comparable programs in our area.  After a bit of investigation, it wasn’t really clear why there was such a cost difference aside from the fact that the preschool shares the same facility with the synagogue and religious school.  Likely building and maintenance costs are thus lower.  If you can find a preschool that’s part of a larger institution, you may find the same price difference.

The program consists of mostly creative time (artwork, song, etc.) and playtime, though they do include some religiously themed material.  For example, in the first couple of weeks alone our daughter brought home a paper shofar (a ram’s horn trumpet used in Jewish religious ceremony) decorated with stickers and a handkerchief challah cover decorated with paint stamps.  We get at least two new creations every week and often more.  This has let us share plenty of her work with grandparents who, of course, love it.  The school also brings in several outside organizations to provide special activities throughout the year, such as the city library, representatives from a local museum, and a real fire truck to climb on and explore. This variety creates an interesting environment that keeps children involved and interested.

The schedule is quite flexible, with 2, 3, and 5 day options with extended care available for the older children.  Although the standard 2 day week is Tuesday/Thursday, one of our friends was able to work out a Monday/Wednesday 2 day schedule due to prior commitments and our daughter goes on Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday.  This also speaks to the flexibility of the school to work with individual families’ needs so all children can get the most out of the experience.

Since we’re members of the synagogue and my wife had taught at the religious school, we were already familiar with what the facility had to offer.  From a well-maintained playground with several structures to clean classrooms we knew that the building was in good repair and well looked after.  The teachers and administrators show very evident interest in maintaining a healthy and safe environment for the students.  In the youngest class, there are two teachers for up to eight students.  Our daughter’s class started with only six students and now has seven on the highest attendance day, so we know she’s in very good hands and receives plenty of personal attention without being the only focus.

Selecting a preschool can certainly be daunting given all we hear about how prepared children do better in school.  It’s important to remember that children will learn at their own pace no matter what we as parents do for them.  Give them a safe, welcoming environment with plenty of opportunity for stimulation and they’ll come up with games you never even considered.  Hopefully they’re already teaching you almost as much as you teach them.  In the meantime, I hope my experience is helpful as you think about what may work for your child.

Dad Book – Big In China

Big in China cover(Full book review and interview with Alan Paul: Coming Monday May 9th!)

Stay at home dad decides to support his wife’s career and uproot their family from New Jersey so she can accept a promotion in Beijing. He eventually settles into expat life, makes time for himself, gains worldwide acclaim for authoring a website column, and becomes a famous frontman for a Chinese blues band.

Boy, if we had a nickel for every time we’ve heard that story!

Alan Paul, author of Big in China, masterfully shares his story of uncertainty, life as an American expatriate, self-exploration, Chinese discoveries, and musical freedom. You will find yourself anxiously turning pages to read more about his adventures and how he transformed his reality of trepidation in a new country to ensuring that his entire family experiences as much as they can with the opportunities they are presented in the Far East.

This novel from one dad will ring bells with millions of others as Paul embraces his family role at home while understanding that he must find his own fulfillment and achieve his dreams. Yet you get the sensation that he isn’t sure what those dreams are until they are pounding away at his ear drums through a conflux of fortunate events. Big in China is a fascinating narrative that shouldn’t be missed.

To purchase this title, please click here to go to Amazon.com!

For more information about the book and author:
http://www.alanpaulinchina.com


Social Media Dads Pave the Way

dad on computer with kidsAs a dad, it gives me such a pleasurable feeling to be out in public and witness other dads doing things that one would typically see the mom doing. For instance, walking in to the men’s room to see a dad using the changing table like it is no big deal. Men without kids will walk in and give an awkward glance or two. They find it odd. I find it beautiful.

As a social media fanatic, dad blogger, and social media influencer, there are certain responsibilities had to being an online personality. It is one thing to blog and write about being a dad, being involved and how-to baby care videos. It is a totally different thing to BE the dad that you write about on a daily basis. How can we expect to influence an entire group of people if we aren’t one of those people ourselves?

All over the internet, dads are showing up in force. From the blogging world, to the forum and Facebook world, and everywhere in between, more and more dads are showing that they are proud of who they are, and not afraid to say so. The role of dads in households the world over are changing, taking on new looks, new tasks, and new challenges. With the use of social media growing like a wildfire in the driest forest, it has become the go to place for dads searching for information about, well, being a modern dad.

What does this mean to the blogging community? Well, I haven’t exactly been around forever.  In fact, the one year anniversary of my blog is only next month. What I have learned though is that dads are out there, they are looking, and they look towards us.  One great thing about the dad blogging community is that it is a community of support and understanding. The fact we all write, some of us work with brands, and others have published books, all just side notes to the bigger picture. That support is an open arm invite to all dads who are seeking advice, guidance, or just a listening ear.

With this invitation, we open ourselves to criticism and accountability. We want to be the loudest voice we can be for the modern dad. We want to show the world that “dad” has a new meaning in the 21st century and it is a pretty large undertaking. We must be vigilant not only in what we write, but how we live our offline lives. How we live, should become what we write. What we write should be our living proof to those who only know us online. This is how we live and blog with integrity and this is how we become the influence.

John (@TheDaddyYoDude) is the proud dad of two kids, Little Man(4) and Little Girl(2) and the honored husband to April. Cook and food service manager by day, blogger and social media addict by hobby. You can find John writing about dadhood and more on The DaddyYo Blog and find him on Facebook.

Media Review: Truth Be Told

Truth Be ToldTruth Be Told is a fun family movie premiering Saturday on FOX. Candace Cameron Bure and David James Elliot make up our adorable couple, except, they aren’t a couple. The premise of the movie is a fairly simple one: a guy and girl need to lie in the hopes of realizing great business opportunities. Unfortunately, the people they’re lying to have a zero tolerance policy towards such behavior and this is where the drama lies. (Sorry, couldn’t avoid the pun!)

From the old college friends pretending to be husband and wife, to the kids stuck in the middle of the lies, all of the characters are likeable and make for an entertaining story. Perhaps the most enjoyable was the eccentric radio station cowboy played by Ronny Cox. His fun but hardworking character added a great dynamic to the plot and enabled some wonderful family moments. It should go without saying that Cox’s acting was superb. We are constantly reminded how lies often compound themselves and become harder to unravel. Important lessons about family, lying, and doing what’s right instead of what’s easy can be found in this film from start to finish.

But the film was not without disappointment in the realm of fatherhood portrayal. As we’ve mentioned before, there were more than 20 major motion pictures in the 1990’s that shared one common theme: if dad is the primary caregiver, mom must be dead. Sadly, Truth Be Told utilized this inaccurate and negative stereotype of single fatherhood. Luckily, this was the only negative side of Elliot’s character. He was an otherwise loving and capable father who cared about kids and was working to help his community.

Spend a couple hours with your family this Saturday watching this wonderful story. I was fortunate enough to have candy and popcorn provided by the nice folks at Dad Central Consulting, but you’ll no doubt have your own favorite movie-watching snacks handy.

For more information on the movie you can visit their official website http://www.familymovienight.com/truth-be-told/ or the Family Movie Night program presented by Walmart and Proctor & Gamble Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/familymovienight.

“Truth Be Told” premiering Saturday, April 16th at 8pm/7ct on FOX.

I wrote this review while participating in a blog tour campaign by Dad Central Consulting on behalf of P&G and received a movie kit to facilitate my review and a gift code to thank me for taking the time to participate.

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