Tag Archives: advice

Post #119: How To Avoid Brushing Your Teeth, by Leo (Age 3)

It’s like this.

The first and most important thing if you’re trying to get out of brushing your teeth is avoidance behavior. Master this art and you might never have to brush your teeth again. Parents play tough, but they all have a breaking point, and it’s all about knowing how to find it. You might run away laughing, for instance, and then turn that into a game which will prove aggravating and distracting since it’s the opposite of what you’re being asked to do. This might even result in a time-out, which will totally prolong or maybe even negate having to brush. Milk this set-up by crying a lot and pretending the time out makes you really sad and upset, all the while thriving in the glory of having abated the dreaded brushing. Another thing to do is simply pout and yell “no” when they tell you to brush. They hate that and might get caught up in the logic of your tone or responsibility or disappointing the dentist or some shit. All I’m saying is there’s lots of ways to play it. Be creative. Try some different stuff out. And if you ever find yourself really stumped and desperate, just shit your pants. Chances are you’re fresh out of the bath and have clean jammies and diaper on. This will immediately draw their ire and distract them away from you brushing your teeth.

But let’s say you can’t avoid it and your parents are feeling stubborn. In that case, just play dumb, man. That’s my policy. The more you make it look like you don’t know how to brush your teeth, or stand still, or stop babbling, the better. Just go deep into that pose like Daniel Day Lewis or something. What I like to do is just chew on my toothbrush like it’s Bubble Yum. Sometimes I don’t even hold the handle. I’ll just chew on it like a country bumpkin on a piece of wheat. Don’t move it around or anything. And whatever you do, don’t make any kind of a swishing, back and forth motion or they’ll just back right off and make you do it yourself. The more inept you make yourself seem, the more likely that one of them will just swoop in, say “here, let me.”

Whatever it takes, really. I don’t sweat the judgment or how it might make me look, either. I’ll save that shit for when I’m older.

Send any suggestions.

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Post #86: Kindling Quarterly

kindling-quarterly-issue1-preview-1As a father of two young boys (4 1/2 year old Felix and 2 1/2 year old Leo) I pay a lot more attention than I used to to how fathers are portrayed in our culture. And, for the most part, at least from where I’m sitting, the portrayals suck and are a pantheon of one note men who don’t know how to behave and who are basically grown up children masquerading as men who think that farting is high humor and scoff at vacuums and toilet brushes. These are your Tim from Home Improvement kind of guys. These are the guys in Old School and The 50 Year Old Virgin and Knocked Up and on the sitcom Guys with Kids. Guys whose naiveté and reliance on masculine puffery/buffoonery and female intuition is supposed to be cute. On occasion, you see far more nuanced and life like fathers, but most that I bump into fit the mold described above. Men who need women to remind them about really complex and hard to figure out stuff like, you know, cleaning windows and making a roast chicken, morality and table manners. Not that all stereotypes are unfounded and unfunny. Some ring true some of the time. There’s pervasive truths about gender that do truly seem to trump interpretation. But I work hard to deliberately smear and ignore gender lines in my own home. And I like cleaning and cooking. I pay actual attention to my children and care a great deal about how they see me. I want to define manhood and fatherhood on my own terms. I don’t want my sons to feel burdened by gender-centric expectations and images the culture feeds them about what boys and men are supposed to be like, especially when the bulk of those portrayals are so embarrassing and limited. And straight. And white.

Enter Kindling Quarterly, a new magazine published by a pair of fathers, David Michael Perez and August Heffner, who seem fed up with the same thing that I am. The newly launched magazine is an exploration of fatherhood and features articles, photos, fashion, recipes, and a host of other content. Full disclosure here that I haven’t read the magazine yet and am not purporting here to review its content. But I heard about it and was intrigued enough to do a little digging. Have a look at the website and read a little about it. It sure sounds cool and looks nice, even if the photo spreads and design are a little hipster looking for my taste. In fact, the whole thing looks like it might be taking itself a little too seriously. But maybe that’s what’s needed. In the “About” section of Kindling Quarterly’s website, they state, “men who are active caregivers are not a novelty and we do not depict them as such” and that’s a sentiment that rings awfully true in these ears. I’m going to pick up the first issue soon and let you know if it justifies it’s hefty $12 price tag.

Until then, The New York Times City Room Blog wrote a pretty decent feature on the magazine. Read it here.

Post #84: Sorry Stand-Ins

Dear Charles,

I don’t know about you, but I haven’t been writing much. And when I have, it’s been in marked avoidance of my novel, Returning, which winks at me from its home on my hard drive like a growing tumor. Though I write a good deal of short fiction, I can’t deny that, even though I enjoy it and it’s good practice, it’s neither my forte nor my passion. But for strange and complex, or perhaps very obvious and embarrassing, reasons, I’ve created a life decidedly unfriendly to a person trying to revise a very long, complicated novel. What will happen is that I’ll plug in for a few days at a time, just long enough to find the thread, then life will grab me by the ankles and yank me back into the hallway. You’ve said it yourself a million times, and you’re right. Writing or revising anything of length hinges on momentum. Sweet sweet motion. A novel is too large and fragmentary an experience to work on without consistency, which just so happens to be the very thing I’m lacking. Revising this novel the way I’m doing it right now is the equivalent of trying to read a book in a pitch black room in which the lights only come on for ninety seconds out of every hour. While the lights are on, you’re frantic, trying to absorb and soak up and enjoy what’s before you, and then the lights are out again. You mark your page. You wait. At first, the routine is bearable. But before long, the ninety seconds become tainted by their own onerous repetition and every time the lights come back on you begin to wonder why you should even bother reading anything at all. At this rate, it’s going to take you forever. You grow dispirited. Consider going to sleep instead.

Or it’s like diving down to a lovely coral reef that’s thirty feet below the surface. The reef is lovely-you’ve never seen a reef like this before-and you keep pushing yourself to get there, but it’s so far and your lungs are starting to hurt and you’re starting to feel woozy and because of the effort it takes just to get down there, you start to wonder if it’s worth the effort.

I can hear you in my ear right now. Shut the fuck up! you’re saying. Stop whining, you sad sack of shit! Nobody told you to create a life that’s not conducive to writing novels. Did they? And besides, you’ll add (because you can’t help yourself) on some messed up level, you probably made the decisions you did so you wouldn’t be able to write so that you could complain about it and not have to deal with your mediocre novel instead.

And while I’ll acknowledge some truth to your brutal logic, I’ll ask you to be kind, to take the broad view, to acknowledge life’s complexities and pressures.

Would you believe that I’m not meaning to whine, but merely to observe and make sense? How can a man work out his reality if he doesn’t pull it into separate parts and create metaphors for all the little parts? Isn’t that what everyone does?

Sorry for the rant. Write back when you have time. Hope you’re well.

Best to Martha and the girls,

Benjamin