I did an interview recently for a parenting blog called www.DadofDivas.com. They have a feature called “Dads in the Limelight” where they ask public figures who also are dads some questions about parenting, marriage and family life. Thanks to DadofDivas for allowing me to reprint the interview here. Be sure to check out their website for more resources on parenting, and family life from the male perspective.
1) Tell me about yourself, (as well as how you are in the limelight for my readers’ knowledge)
I grew up the only son of an atheist and a southern Baptist, so I split the difference and became a heretic. I walked out of – or more specifically, was invited to leave – church at the age of seventeen and didn’t look back for a decade. My wife (then girlfriend) was a minister at a church, which presented a challenge like me who was convinced the walls would burn down if I went back to church. But along the way, I learned not all Christians were the judgmental, fear-mongering hypocrites I had painted them to be in my absence.
Over time, I sort of became a spokesperson for those on the fringes of faith who believe there’s something bigger than themselves in the world, but who still have their suspicions about the whole “church” thing. I’ve written for several newspapers, magazines, blogs, and I’ve published a number of books on topics like faith, family and fatherhood (my memoir, PregMANcy: A Dad, A Little Dude and a Due Date), asking tough questions about faith (Banned Questions About the Bible>” and “Banned Questions About Jesus), young adult spirituality and the intersections of faith and popular culture. I write a blog for the Progressive Christian portal at Patheos, I co-edit the faith content for the Good Men Project website, and I contribute toHuffington Post, Sojourners and Red Letter Christians among others.
2) Tell me about your family
I grew up an only child and a latchkey kid because both parents worked, chasing the “American Dream.” They found it for a while, until it came crashing down in the form of a real estate market crash, bankruptcy and divorce. So much for the archetypal definitions of American success; I wanted nothing to do with it. I’ve always been a flaky artist, a dreamer, and a bit of a hopeless idealist. I’ve just been lucky enough both to make a reasonable living at it, and to find a wife who seems to tolerate it, if not always understand. We have two kids, including Mattias (boy, 9) and Zoe (girl, 4). I was more than a little resistant to have a second child, partly because I don’t know anything about families with multiple kids, but also because our son has Asperger Syndrome. He’s brilliant, funny, energetic and infinitely curious, but he can also be more than either of us can handle at any given time. In fact, although PregMANcy, my memoir, takes place during my wife, Amy’s second pregnancy, much of the book is about my son and me trying to find our way through the world together, particularly as I discover I share many similar traits with him that were never formally diagnosed as a “syndrome.”
My wife, Amy, is the picture of feminine strength, courage and wisdom. She’s taught me how to love in spite of all my reasons not to. She’s shown me a face of God I wasn’t sure existed. And maybe most important, she puts up with me being a hopeless smartass, a haphazard provider and the antithesis of the modernist male stereotype – for better and worse, I expect – in nearly every way.
3) What has been the largest challenge you have had in being a father?
The hardest thing has been finding ways to connect with and lovingly parent a child with Asperger Syndrome. It’s also complicated by the fact that I have a weird relationship with my dad (he walked out on us several years back when I asked him not to drink in our home anymore because of some rocky events in the past), and because I see an awful lot of my dad in Mattias. It’s like the universe is confronting me with the stuff I tried to avoid all over again. And this time, another kid’s future is at stake. Not that I have more than a marginal grasp on helping him guide his own life – after all, he is, if nothing else, his own person. But But loving him has been the most amazing, rich, hard, revealing, maddening, beautiful experience of my life. All that said, there are days I just want to put my head through a wall. Or his. Or maybe both.4) What advice would you give to other fathers?
A vasectomy is waaay cheaper than kids! Seriously though, know who you are both as an individual and as a couple before you even think of having kids. If you have some delusion about creating little “mini-me” humans who will inflate your ego, get over it. Not gonna happen. As Andrew Solomon says in his book, “Far From the Tree,” we want nothing more than to define ourselves as distinct and independent from our parents. But somehow we forget that when we have our own kids, because we want nothing more than for them to be miniature reflections of ourselves.
Parenting is messy, exhausting, confounding, chaotic and sometimes heartbreaking. And somehow, it’s still more than worth it. If that seems unfathomable, you’re probably not ready to be a parent yet.
5) Seeing that you (or your position) are in the limelight, how have you come to balance parenthood and outside life? If you are currently not in the limelight per se, please still answer this in regards to how you balance parenthood and outside life.
The good part about my work is that, most days, I get to work from home as a writer. In fact, my kids get a real charge out of the fact that I write about them so much. I’m sure I’m creating a couple of narcissistic little monsters, but hey, that’s the price of being a memoirist, right? But honestly, it’s hardest when I go out of town on speaking tours or for conferences, leaving my wife (who works full-time as the minister of a big downtown church in Portland, OR) to handle all of the parenting duties. I wish I could say we’d found a healthy balance with all of that, but we’re still negotiating as we go along. I think part of the problem has stemmed from this reality we’re in in the Western world, where the life we think we’re supposed to (or even entitled to) live requires both parents to work 40 or more hours a week. Add that to a couple of kids – especially one with special needs – and a marriage that needs its own attention to thrive and you have the ingredients for a disaster if not handled with great respect and care.
6) What have you learned from the fathers that you have interacted with?
That I’m the best one. Yep, I’m number one. Sorry other dads. Facts is facts.
Actually, I struggle, as many dads do, with what it means to be a “postmodern dad.” I cook meals for my kids, I changed diapers, pick them up from school, put them to be…stuff my dad almost never did. But I’m also a professional in my own right, a husband, and I have my own interests. I like sports, dig going to movies and actually like to read something on occasion that has nothing to do with my work. Guys who have figured out how to keep all those plates spinning without losing their shit have my deep respect.
7) What else would you share regarding your experiences as a father thus far?
When your child is peeing on the changing table, close your mouth. Trust me. I am speaking from experience here. Always cover the source before securing the diaper. And never, NEVER try to talk to your wife while the little guy you’re attending to is lying down, commando in front of you.
8) What have been the most memorable experiences that you have had thus far as a parent?
I witnessed both of my kids being born. Both were very different and really mind-blowing in their own way. My son’s birth was complicated. He was a “star gazer,” which means he was turned with his face toward Amy’s belly button. He also had the cord wrapped around his neck. So after hours and hours of labor, they did a C-section, and I got to be in the room. I’ve seen parts of my wife she’ll never see, all while talking to her on the other side of the screen. And then, out of all of that blood and viscera, there’s this new life, screaming and gasping for life on new terms. I was the first one to put a diaper on him, but I was shaking so much I almost couldn’t do it.
Zoe’s birth was all natural, which they told us couldn’t happen after our first being a C-section. But we found a ball-buster of a midwife who made it happen through sheer will, and maybe a little bit of healthy fear on the part of the hospital administrators. When Zoe was born, she didn’t make a sound for several minutes. I asked the doctor if she was all right, and they said that she was just…mellow. She’s been this little beam of sunshine in my life ever since. Whereas having a son taps into all kinds of issues of pride and personal responsibility, the kind of love a dad has for a daughter is just stupid. You’re a big puddle of mush, and soon enough they figure that out.
After that, you’re pretty much screwed.