December 31, 2011

Why 2012 Is Going to Be Amazing

I'm worn out. Completely worn out. I'm not sure whether it's lack of sleep, dehydration or Nintendo thumb, but 2011 really beat me up. I have more aches in my bones than ever before and I'm pretty sure that the only one sleeping at naptime these days is me, dear old Dad. But that is all about to change.

I'm tired of being tired, so I'm dedicating 2012 to be the Year of Amazing. That's right my friends. I've looked into my crystal ball and have seen the future. This is going to be a banner year at Klems Manor where a lot of amazing things will happen—Ella will start kindergarten, Anna will start preschool, Mia will take her first steps, my wife will learn to love bacon. There will be many, many reasons to celebrate and I plan to celebrate them all.

Though, as I looked into that giant ball, I noticed my family members weren't the only ones who will do great things in the coming year. I saw 8 Amazing Things that this Dad is going to accomplish in 2012. Here they are:

1. I am going to lose 20 pounds.
For the sake of my health it's time to cut my Dorito intake in half, so I'll only be buying 3 bags a week. Sorry Frito-Lay.

2. I am going to run a half marathon. Stop laughing. (UPDATE: COMPLETED!)

3. I am going to take part in a flash mob. Would love to do the first ever "Dad Flash Mob" where Dads across the great city of Cincinnati break out in dance to Motownphilly by Boyz II Men. Why? The band name says it all. Plus, that song is awesome. Who's with me?

4. I am going to find a way so that all three of my kids can sit on my lap at the same time and get a photo with all three of them smiling at the same time AND with all our eyes open.
This, quite honestly, may be the most difficult item on this list.

5. I am going to read my kids The Little Prince.
My Mom read this to me at bedtime when I was just a little Brian, and it's one of her fondest memories. I want a fondest memory.

6. I am going to beat Andy Uhl in Scrabble.
I'm not even sure this is possible, but I'm going to spend the next 366 days (thank you leap year) trying to do it.

7. I am going to get rid of my blue sleeping pants that sport a giant hole in the crotch
(much to the chagrin of my wife, I'm sure). I never thought I'd see this day. All hope is not lost, though: I see a thread beginning to break free in the crotch of my red pair. (UPDATED: COMPLETED!)

8. I am going to pitch a Life of Dad book to agents and put myself out there.
If millions come rolling in, I'm throwing a party and you're all invited. So long as you use the code-word Forehead Hickey. (UPDATE: Phase 1 COMPLETED!; On to Phase 2 - Book Deal)

Come success or failure at any (all) of these, one thing is for certain: Life is short and there's no more time for putting off dreams. If I'm not constantly trying to reach goals, then what kind of example am I setting for my kids? A boring one. Which is why I'm glad I looked into that crystal ball and saw just how amazing my coming year is going to be. I hope you have an opportunity to look into yours and see what amazing things you are going to accomplish in the coming year.

And if what you see is you taking part in a Dad flash mob, let me know. I can help make that happen.

December 16, 2011

Christmas Letter of Recommendation to Santa

Santa Claus
North Pole

Dear Santa,

How's it going at The North Pole? Participated in any flash mobs this year? Based on the increased number of Christmas specials on TBS, I'd have to think you have royalty checks overflowing your workshop. Hope the reindeer don't eat them.

Anywho, it's my pleasure to write you today and ask that you do, in fact, place my daughters on the Nice List. It's been an emotional year, one that's seen some loved ones bow out and new loved ones bow in. But all in all, save a few incidents of hair-pulling and not abiding by the rules of seat-check, our girls have been great. I'd like to tell you about it in this Christmas Letter of Recommendation.

Our eldest, Ella, is in her second year of preschool (which she loves). She comes home most days sharing what she's learned with us, like sign language, silly songs and jokes that, we're pretty sure, she's just making up. They make us laugh anyway. She worked really hard to write all her birthday thank-you cards by herself and can now do basic math, just like her old (yet incredibly handsome) dad.

My middle daughter, Anna, had a monumental year this year, becoming potty trained right around her second birthday. She was so happy. So were we. So were the blue M&Ms who had been living in fear during the potty training process and had been eaten at such an alarming rate that they started to hide—in our couch cushions, under the refrigerator, in plants, in pockets, up noses—anywhere they could to save their lives. She also learned how to spell her own name. Her Mom and I can no longer pass secrets notes about her anymore. Though, usually, those notes were about how much we love her, so we'll probably still pass them.

My newest daughter, Mia, is still just a babe at 6 months, but she is a smiley one. Her recent accomplishments include eating solids (that are anything but solid), sitting up on her own, and shaking her rattle so hard it slips out and sails at least 8 feet. Sounds like someone wants matching father-daughter softball gear for Christmas. That someone is me. She'd probably be fine with a hoverboard.

And, while my wife didn't ask for it, I'm going to put in a good word for her too. She's dealt with a lot of adversity this year and somehow, someway still finds time to wear those god-awful thermal PJs that I hate so much. I hope you take care of her by putting big smiles on our kids' faces—I know that's the gift she wants most of all.

As for me, I don't need anything. Just a loving family who gives me hugs when I need them will do. And for that, I will continue to be awesome.

I hope all is well and Mrs. Claus gets you that new Star Wars Blu-Ray set you've been wanting. If not, let me know. I'll get it for you so long as you take those thermal PJs back with you to the North Pole.

Thank you and Merry Christmas,
Brian A. Klems
Founder, CEO and Janitor of Team Klems

December 1, 2011

The 5 Levels of Dirty Diapers & How to Survive Them

When people dream about having babies, they only think about the fun things, like squeezing their cheeks and using them to practice ventriloquism. They don't spend much time focusing on the tough parts of parenting, specifically changing diapers. From what I've heard, this used to be an easy process. But then 9/11 hit and WHAM!, diapers became more dangerous than ever. That's why, with the help of the Homeland Diaper Advisory Board, I've developed the Dirty Diaper Threat Level Alert System.

This system is designed to help you diagnose the potential threat of each type of dirty diaper and advise on how to prepare for (and handle) each situation. No need to thank me yet—thank me after you've survived a Code Red.

The Dirty Diaper Threat Level Alert System: 
LEVEL 1: Code Green. This condition is declared when there is a low risk of bodily fluids escaping the diaper. Federal departments as well as your immediate household should consider taking the following general protective measures:
  1. Keep wipes and spare diapers close.
  2. Make sure changing pad is laid out somewhere away from foot traffic.
  3. Fake cramp in your diaper-changing hand and use sympathy to get mother-in-law to change it for you.
  4. Dispose diaper in any open garbage can or leave it haphazardly on the coffee table until the next time you go into the kitchen to make yourself some bacon.

LEVEL 2: Code Blue. Also known as "A Stinker," this condition is declared when there is no actual evidence of an explosion but there is a general risk of your baby dropping a load based on the terrible smell of her farts. Code Blue farts are toxic and can kill. I've seen a Code Blue take the lives of two doll babies, a Cabbage Patch Kid and one unsuspecting Potato Head. Consider taking the following general protective measures:
  1. Use latex gloves to slowly peek in the diaper to make sure there's nothing actually in there. If there is, you may have to declare a Code Yellow or Orange (see below).
  2. Remove smell by opening windows or cutting off your nose.
  3. Invite mother-in-law over for dinner, but only if she can arrive in next 4 minutes. Hand off baby, run out to pick up pizza. Text her and ask for Code Level before returning. Important Note: Don't forget to use $2-off pizza coupon.

LEVEL 3: Code Yellow. An elevated Code Yellow is declared when there is a significant risk of skid marks in the diaper. This is the type of diaper you offer to change because 1. It's not lethal, 2. It's not messy and 3. It will allow you to use the phrase "I changed the last one" when the big one drops. Consider taking the following general protective measures:
  1. Take off favorite sports jersey.
  2. Put on surgical mask.
  3. Sing Alma Mater fight song to pump you up.
  4. Make sure someone's purse is close and open. Dirty diaper + Open purse = practical joke enjoyed by all.

LEVEL 4: Code Orange. A Code Orange is declared when there is a high risk that the diaper is filled with a bomb but remains contained. Signs of a Code Orange include sweating, grunting, crying and foul odors—and that's just from you. The baby, likely embarrassed that she had to drop one in front of everyone in the living room, will pretend like nothing happened. Consider taking the following general protective measures:
  1. Also pretend like nothing happened.

LEVEL 5: Code Red. This is also known as a "Nuclear Attack." Slimy particles not only escape from the diaper, they leap and ruin anything within a 5-mile radius. Liked that onesie? Too bad, it's got poop on it. Liked that Green Day poster on your wall? Too bad, it's got poop on it. Liked your forehead? Too bad, it's got poop on it. Liked that 62-inch flat screen TV? Too bad … well, actually, you were wise enough to cover it in 11 layers of plastic and 4 rolls of duct tape to protect it during just such an event. Good for you! Consider taking the following general protective measures:
  1. Invest in Hazmat suit.
  2. Pray for a miracle.
  3. Man up and change that diaper, no matter what is clinging to your forehead. 
  4. Take picture and send to your wife while she is at work. She will appreciate it. 
  5. And finally, place all material that's fallen victim to a Code Red in a garbage bag, seal tightly, drive to neighboring state and bury it in the backyard of a Yankees fan. (Another practical joke enjoyed by all.)
The truth is, diapers are gross unless they are your kid's. And while I joke, I've changed every type of diaper imaginable, including a Code Erupting Volcano (details of this are too unfit to print). And I've survived—barely. I hope this chart helps you recognize and diagnose the proper threat level of dirty diapers and allows you to survive them, too.

I also hope you've perfected your ventriloquist skills.

November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

I'm thankful for a lot of things, including great friends, a caring family, loyal blog readers and very, very kind commenters. I asked my girls what they are most thankful for this Thanksgiving, and they dug deep in their hearts and both agreed that it was, without a doubt:


Have a wonderful, safe, pie-filled Thanksgiving everyone from all of us here at The Life of Dad!

And, for my cousin who is out of town this year celebrating Thanksgiving with some fine people in Michigan and my other cousin who is eating his turkey in Boston (though I believe both are part of a secret crime-fighting duo called Luchi and The Bear and are on assignment today), I'll be live tweeting the event so they aren't left out. Feel free to follow the #Klemsgiving hashtag to add an extra layer of fun to your Thanksgiving feast.

November 16, 2011

The Letter Everyone Should Write to Their Loved Ones

Too many things are often left unsaid, like "I love you" or "I appreciate you" or "I admit it, Toy Story 3 made me cry." In the wake of losing my Dad and my sister-in-law, I've been left completely shaken, worried that something could happen to me (like a tragic softball accident where I hit a game-winning grand slam and, upon crossing home plate, I spontaneously combust) and my daughters will be robbed of the opportunity to get to know their big-headed dad.

So I've decided to jot down some important notes that way if, God forbid, something awful happens to me in the near future, my girls will get at least some sense of who I am, who I strive to be and what I value in life. It's an exercise that I now believe everyone should do—whether the letter is to your kids, a spouse, siblings, a childhood friend, Zach Braff or the person who invented tag-free undershirts (seriously, that person is a genius). It may be the hardest thing you do, but—and trust me on this—one day someone else will be forever thankful that you did.

Here it goes:

Dear Ella, Anna and Mia,

If I die tomorrow, I want you to know …

I wanted to name all of you Bacon.

I don't want you to marry anyone named Larry.

I liked hooded sweatshirts before Mark Zuckerberg liked hooded sweatshirts. (The holey, green Adidas one I've worn since high school that your mom has been dying to throw away since we met is proof of that.)

I don't care what you do with my body so long as you don't eat me.

I always wanted to be a superhero, one that could save people when they were in trouble. I also wanted to invent a superhero outfit that didn't involve tights because I hate how tights feel. I hope both qualities are genetic and are in your genes too.

I checked the closets every night for monsters to ensure you were safe.

I ate a healthy diet that mainly consisted of the four major food groups: fruits, vegetables, meats and Nacho Cheese Doritos.

I had two guaranteed highlights of every day: Waking up in the morning to your smiling faces and singing you to sleep each night with beautiful renditions of "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star," "The Itsy Bitsy Spider" and the theme to "Charles in Charge."

I wore the number 5 in little league not because it was the number of legendary Reds catcher Johnny Bench, but because I was the tiniest guy on our team and had to take the tiniest jersey available. Even though I was small, I always played with a big heart.

I played guitar, though I did not play a single song that impressed your mom. (I mean, come on, who doesn't like Jewel?) Must have won her over with my killer good looks.

I made it through life with the help of a lot of amazing friends. I hope you're as lucky in this department as I am. 

I was passionate about a lot of things—writing, Boggle, discrediting e-mail forwards, seeing how many days in a row I can wear the same pair of pants before someone noticed—and it was my passion that drove me to be better at everything I did. That passion included striving to be the best father in the world.

The designated hitter is stupid. Has little relevance here, but it's still an important fact you should know.

I was once on a Bar Game Olympics championship team called "The Tony Danzas." This is true. I have the number 5 jersey to prove it.

I always wanted to build a well-lit library room in the house, filled wall-to-wall with books and house one large, comfortable couch. That way I could read "The Lorax" to you when you were young and "When Your Kid Goes to College: A Parent's Survival Guide" to myself when you were all grown up.

I always chose comfort over fashion, much to the chagrin of your mom (though I would bend on this for only the specialist of occasions).

I don't believe in opening gifts on Christmas Eve until you have finished singing at least an hour's worth of carols.

I went out of my way to recycle so your grandkids wouldn't have to live on big piles of garbage. (You're welcome.) Pay it forward.

I snuggled with you at naptime, not because I had to but because I wanted to.

I performed magic because it always impressed you guys. It was also a sneaky way to get you to "disappear" into the bathroom and go potty before bed.

I rarely bragged about my accomplishments, but I regularly bragged to everyone about how lucky I was to have such smart, kind, caring, funny, beautiful daughters. While I'd like to take credit, those are the same characteristics that caused me to fall deeply in love with your mom.

I loved going to the zoo, watching the giraffes stick out their long tongues and complaining about how bad the elephant house stunk.

I wanted nothing but the best for you girls, even if it meant I had to sacrifice everything (including my bobblehead collection).

And most important, I loved all of you with every molecule of my heart. I woke up every day believing in you, knowing that you'd grow up to be amazing. Whether I get to see it or not, know that I'll always be with you, in your heart, in your soul, watching out for you, protecting you from the monsters in the closet, and bragging to every spirit in heaven about how lucky I was to be a part of your life.

Trust me: Wherever I am, I'm thinking of you and smiling,
Your Dad

Oh Boy, You're Having a Girl
(A Dad's Survival Guide to Raising Daughters)

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October 31, 2011

Did Disney Ruin Your Halloween Too?

Thanks to Disney, Halloween is not scary anymore. It's true. Nearly every little girl under the age of 9 turns down the chance to dress as something spooky, like a witch or a ghost or your mother-in-law, and instead chooses to be something cuddly like Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Tinker Bell, Rapunzel or one of the other 800 Disney princesses. And, on the off chance she doesn't want to be a princess, she chooses to be Dora, the friendly neighborhood explorer.

When I asked each one of my girls what they wanted to be this year for Halloween, they responded as follows:

Anna: "DORA!"
Mia: "BLUB-ER-GUP" (which is 5-month-old speak for "princess")

What a disaster. There's no face paint involved with those costumes. No evil laughs. Nothing that will give you the goose bumps. You're more likely to be scared by a rainbow than you are by my little ladies. I wouldn't be surprised if next year one of them wants to dress up as a hug.

So I made it my mission to add a little bit of scariness to our Halloween festivities by having "The Inaugural Klems Family Scary Mask-Making Night." I made sure to load up on supplies: paper grocery bags large enough to fit over the giant heads of my children, crayons, markers, construction paper, pipe cleaners, bacon (to feast on), paint and anything else around the house that we could find that wouldn't cause their Mom to yell at us.

I waited until a night when my wife was out on the town, likely binge drinking with someone much handsomer than me1 and I went to work. I weaved the supplies throughout the living room floor and pulled the girls in.

"Let's make some scary, scary masks and then surprise Mom when she gets home. WHO'S WITH ME?"

"WE ARE!" they all shouted, except for Mia who farted in agreement.

Without time to spare, I let them get to work. I offered to help with whatever they wanted. I cut out eye-holes. I cut out big scary teeth to tape to the front of the paper bags. But then Ella, my 4-year-old, stopped me.

"Dad, I don't want to put those teeth on my mask."

"OK hun, what do you want me to cut out for you? A giant creepy red tongue? Some brown, dirty teeth? A black-and-blue eyeball that looks like it's getting CHEWED?"

"Can you cut a pretty smile out of this pink construction paper?"

Long pause.

"Well dear, that's not quite what I had in mind when I said we were making … "

"And can you twist these purple and pink pipe cleaners into arms and hands so I can still hug Mommy when I'm wearing the mask?"

Another long pause.

"But your goal isn't to hug Mom when she gets home, it's to scare her."

"Don't worry Dad, we're still going to yell 'BOO!'"

So I turned to my 2-year-old Anna and asked her if she made a scary mask.

"Daddy, my mask is really scary."

"That's GREAT Anna! I'm so excited. Are those red blobs on your mask blood oozing out?"

"No Daddy, those are hearts. And over here I drew a unicorn."

I wanted to shake my head in disgust. These girls were not only soft, but they were waving their softness in my face like a badge of honor. And unless you have a fear of pink or suffer from Unicornaphobia, you will be able to walk through my house without spotting a single scary thing (unless you count my wife's credit card bill that's laying on our coffee table).

Just as I thought the night was a total bust, my wife came home from painting the town red2. My pink, purple and heart-covered monsters quickly put on their masks and hid behind the couch. As my wife walked into the room, they jumped and yelled "BOOOOOO!" and erupted with laughter. I'd like to think my wife was a little scared. She probably was, though it likely had less to do with the masks and more to do with the 10lb diaper I'd neglected to change off my 5-month-old.

Maybe I'll never get the kids to dress like a monster or vampire, but I'll continue to try to get them to be a little scarier. In the meantime, I'll just enjoy my little princesses and explorers and hope that one day I get the chance to punch Disney in the face.

Happy Halloween.

1 OK, this is obviously not true. There's no one handsomer than me.
2 "Painting the town red" is actually a euphemism for "Visiting her sick sister in the hospital." But before you take her side, think about this: She kicks puppies. Hard.

Oh Boy, You're Having a Girl
(A Dad's Survival Guide to Raising Daughters)

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October 13, 2011

Dads vs. Toys: Which Do Kids Prefer?

My house is overflowing with Toys. Dolls, blocks, doctor kits, Tinkerbell phones, Mr. Potato Heads, magnetic letters for the fridge—you name it, I've stepped on it. Our house holds so many Toys that we are considering buying a second house just so we have somewhere to live.

But Toys and Dads aren't really that different, when you think about it. We share a lot of the same traits and characteristics. We spend countless hours showering kids with our love and affection only to be stepped on, tossed around, bitten and ignored the minute Yo Gabba Gabba comes on the tube. In fact, the more I started to analyze it, the more I realized that Dads and Toys are cut from the same mold. Here's proof:

Toys are awesome.
Dads are awesome.

Toys are loud.
Dads are loud.

Toys let kids drool on them.
Dads let kids drool on them.

Toys protect kids from the bogeyman.
Dads protect kids from the bogeyman.

Toys are often left on the couch.
Dads are often found on the couch.

Toys have a holiday (Christmas).
Dads have a holiday (Father's Day).

Toys have a movie (Toy Story).
Dads have a movie (Field of Dreams).1

Toys cause Mom to yell "I told you to clean your mess up!"
Dads cause Mom to yell "Seriously Brian, you are the grown up here."

Toys are expensive.
Dads are … well, this is a bad example because Dads are cheap. In fact, Dads are the cheapest things on the planet. (Just ask my wife.)

Toys are generally found around the house naked.
Dads are generally found around the house naked.

Toys are left behind when kids go to college.
Dads are left behind when kids go to college.

Toys create fond memories and stories that kids will always cherish.
Dads create fond memories and stories that kids will not only cherish, but also pass on to their kids through their words, actions and love.

I'm sure there are plenty more similarities between Dads and Toys and it probably doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize they both have value in kids' lives (unless you are trying to create a specific formula that proves it, in which case, it probably would take a rocket scientist.), but there is one key difference:

Dads cure boo-boos. Toys do not.

And that's why Dads are better.2

1 "Is this Heaven?" "It's Iowa." "I could have sworn it was Heaven." "Is there a Heaven?" "Oh yes, it's where dreams come true." "Then maybe this is Heaven." (Don't be ashamed of your Dad Tears, fellas.)
2 Suck on that, Toys. 

Oh Boy, You're Having a Girl
(A Dad's Survival Guide to Raising Daughters)

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October 3, 2011

Parenting and Stress

Stress is the worst. It causes your hair to change colors. It causes you to feel so sick to your stomach that you can't eat and yet, somehow, gain weight at the same time. It makes you want to haul off and slap someone whether they deserve it or not—and let's face it, they deserve it.

Before I was a Dad the only stressors I had in my life were picking a lunch destination, remembering my wedding anniversary, wondering when my high school band would reunite (Optimus Prime 4-ever!), hoping the college video of me dancing to N'Sync's "Bye Bye Bye" never surfaced on YouTube, keeping my softball on-base % high enough to satisfy SABREmetric fans and watching the Cincinnati Reds bullpen implode.

That was it.

I wasn't worried about much because, quite frankly, I didn't have much to worry about. Most everything else seemed fairly trivial. I led a fairly easy life.

Now that I'm a Dad, my whole life is a giant hairy ball of stress. From the minute I wake up to the minute I go to bed, all I do is worry:

Did I set the alarm early enough to get the kids to the sitter's and me to work on time?
Did I already snooze the allotted three times?
Did I actually wash my hair or just imagine that I did? I honestly can't remember.
Did I brush the kids' teeth?
Did I brush my teeth?
Is it OK that I'm the type of Dad that would let them stand in a bucket?
Is my wife walking around in a bra because she's into me or because our 4-month-old just spit up all over her shirt?
Should I take that slap as a "our 4-month-old just spit up all over her shirt"?
Is eating that Dorito off the floor a lesson to my kids not to be wasteful, or is it just disgusting?
Am I caffeinated enough to make it until the kids' bedtime?
Do I have enough Doras recorded on the DVR? Any space left for "The Big Bang Theory"?
Did I post any recent pictures of my kids on Facebook?
Are the pictures getting a reasonable amount of "likes"?
Will they get hurt? Can I keep them healthy?
Did we make a birthday card for Aunt Jennie?
Does the baby need a diaper change?
Did I make something for dinner that isn't named macaroni and cheese and the kids will actually eat?
Did that guy just see me rocking out to the Tangled soundtrack? Oh my god, did he notice that my kids aren't in the car and that it's just me?
Do we really need to stop on the side of the highway or can she "hold it" until we get home?
Will my kids get into good colleges?
Will I be able to afford their weddings?
Am I really cut out to be a parent?
Am I setting a good example for my kids?
Does the Karate Kid Crane Kick really work?
Will my kids grow up to be good, smart, kind, happy, respectful people who will take care of their old man when he starts to lose his mind?
Did I kiss them goodnight?

At any given moment of the day, I'm worrying about at least half of these—usually more. But you know what? I wouldn't trade the worry for anything in the world. A close friend without kids once told me there are two nuggets of truth every parent offered him about becoming a parent: 1) It will drastically change your life forever and 2) It's the best decision you'll ever make.

And they are right.

I couldn't imagine going back to my stress-free life. I certainly miss hanging out with the guys playing epic games of Halo, and then coming home and bragging about it to seduce my wife (only to find out that Halo-domination doesn't rate highly on her list of turn-ons—I will never understand women). And I try to sneak out occasionally to relive the stress-free "glory days." But the best stress relief is a good hug from the people who count on you day in and day out to carry the burden of stress so they don't have to.

That makes all the stress in the world worth it.

Of course, it sure wouldn't hurt if I received an e-mail from my college buddy Justin assuring me that the N'Sync video has been destroyed, set on fire, and buried at sea. Or, at the very least, edited to include the disclaimer "We were drunk."1

1 We were also drunk when we watched the all-day marathon of O-Town's "Making the Band," when we bought those sweet Hawaiian shirts and anytime we used the word "gnarly." I swear. You wouldn't believe how many Zimas we could pound.

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September 29, 2011

The Parent Du Jour

Hey Life of Dadders ...

I was recently featured on The Parent du Jour as part of their "A Dad a Day" project. They asked me some pretty tough questions and I answered them as well as I possibly could without sounding like a complete idiot.


BRIAN KLEMS The Life of Dad

Thanks to Lisa Duggan for asking me to take part. You're a wonderful (and patient) human being.

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September 15, 2011

First Day of School Traditions

I have Opening Day traditions and Christmas traditions and Softball traditions (like enjoying the sweet, sweet taste of a Strikeout Beer 1), but I've never really had a "First Day of School" tradition. Both of my parents were scrambling to get me and my sister up, showered, dressed, fed and off to school is roughly 9.7 seconds, so there was no time. The closest thing I had to a First Day of School Tradition was a morning filled with anxiety and panic—Will my teacher like me? Will the kids remember who I am? Will anyone notice that I used my Tooth Fairy money to buy this awesome Swatch Watch?

Honestly, the idea of First Day of School Traditions never dawned on me until I saw my friend Tari post this on Facebook:

"I remembered at midnight last night, that my twin girls have school this morning. Glad I had that second glass of wine. "

If that wasn't tradition enough, she also posted this:

"Starting the day with a Family tradition: Eating breakfast out on the first day of school!"

This got me thinking, should I start some traditions with my girls? So far the past two years all I've done is taken Ella's picture in front of her school and, immediately upon picking her up from school, asked her "How on Earth did you get that blue stain on your shirt?"

So I posed this question to my FB friends:
"Anyone have any first-day-of-school traditions? Would love to hear them."
The answers ranged from the practical ...
Erin: I take a photo of my kids in front of the tree in front yard. Have every year since Kindergarten. 
Judy: We also took a picture on the first day and had them hold up so many fingers to match the grade they were in.
Mary: Send a cloth hankie belonging to mom/dad that fits in their pockets to touch and know you'll be back at 3:00.
Becky: Back to school time means new undies and socks. Gotta stay fresh, and I'm all about tradition. ;)

To the delicious
Melissa: When my friend was growing up, her mom would make her homemade chocolate chip cookies after school.

Jennifer: I always cook my kids a spaghetti dinner.

Krista: We always went out for ice cream on the first and last day of school with my parents.

To the Keep-Them-Away-From-My-Daughters:
Ray: In college I found the hot girls in my class and then sat next to them and asked for their that what you meant? ;) 
Kevin M.: I wake up early and throw rocks at the school buses when they drive by. I love traditions. 
Kevin A.: I would be so drunk...

To my sentimental favorites ...
Kristin: A note for each of them in their lunch boxes, telling them I love them and to have a great year. I do it when they're not looking so it'll be a surprise. 
Ben: My dad made us take a picture in front of the house every first day of school. I used to hate it, but when I graduated high school he gave me an album that had all of them in it. Every year. One of my most cherished possessions. 

When I was young, I thought traditions were generally stupid. It wasn't until I became a parent that I realized how much I cherish those annual memories—and how much my own parents must have enjoyed them too. I'm not sure what traditions I'm going to do next year, but I'm definitely going to do something.

One thing is for certain: I know I'm going to start the night before with two healthy glasses of wine. (Thanks for the suggestion, Tari!).

1 A "Strikeout Beer" is a free beer brought to the ballpark by a fellow teammate who spent the previous week embarrassing himself by striking out in slow-pitch softball. That's right: Slow. Pitch. Softball. Required: At least one beer for every member of the team. Not required: Beer that costs more than an average batting glove and tastes better than feet. (In fact, it's recently become a challenge on our team to find the cheapest, worst-tasting beer available in the Queen City. As a teammate who appreciates a good Strikeout Beer, I hate this challenge.) 

Thanks to everyone for their thoughts. If you have a "First Day of School Tradition" definitely share it in the comments section. I would love to hear them (as I'm sure everyone would love good ideas to be shared). 

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September 3, 2011

The 4 Lessons Preschool Teaches Dads (and Moms)

You've witnessed a lot of firsts in your child's life—the first time she walked, the first time she talked, the first time she sneezed in your mouth. Your heart melted the morning when she first said "I love you," and you cried the first afternoon that she accidentally head-butted you in the crotch. But these milestones will all culminate on the day you send her off into the world to be part of a 3-year-old society, best known to us regular folks as Preschool.

And nothing prepares you for your child's first day of school.

The truth is, you're not prepared for it because ... well, it's your first day of school, too. Sure, you've already learned your ABCs and 123s and how to successfully predict your future spouse, car and kids with a game of MASH; but now you're a parent, and parents have new lessons to learn. So I've decided to share them with you. Here are the 4 Lessons Preschool Teaches Dads (and Moms):

Lesson #1: You are a giant.
Our first day of Preschool didn't start on Tuesday; it started months ago when we visited the school. Everything—the furniture, the lockers, the hallway—was very, very little. Freakishly little. The coat hangers were so close to the ground, I threw out my back just looking at them. The desks were so small I could wear them as shoes. And the toilet was so tiny that I'm pretty sure even Barbie would have a tough time squeezing her cheeks on it. If it weren't for the warmth of the teaching staff and the reminder from my wife that I was "like a thousand times larger than the kids that would use this stuff" (thank you, wife), Ella would be at home where the desks are big enough to hold kegs and the toilets are big enough to hold butts.

Lesson #2: School is more interesting than Dad.
When I told Ella about preschool, I couldn't believe how excited she was. Anytime I mentioned it, her face lit up like a sparkler. All summer long our conversations eventually turned to "School this" and "School that" and "When does it start?"—to which my wife would reply, "Too soon ... Oh too soon." I once asked Ella if she loved me, to which she replied, "I love school!" When you lay out the facts (I've loved, cared and hugged her every day of her wonderful life vs. school, a place she's visited the same number of times she's driven the car, which is zero), you can see why she'd pick school over me. Score: School = 1, Dad = Same number of times Ella has driven the car (still zero).

Lesson #3: Her day of firsts is also your day of firsts.
It's your first day of dropping her off. It's your first day of picking her up. It's your first day of running late because you can't find her Dora bookbag—even though you've done nothing but trip over it on the living room floor for the past two weeks. It's your first time signing up for the snack sheet. It's your first time embarrassingly e-mailing the teacher to tell her you already forgot what dates you signed up for. It's your first time dropping off her younger sister at the sitter's house all by herself (and younger sister gives you the very sad Why-Are-You-Guys-Leaving-Me-All-By-Myself puppy dog eyes). And it's your first day realizing that you are going to have to do this twice a week for the next 9 months.

Lesson #4: Let her go.
Funny thing about kids: From the minute our children are born, we can't wait to watch them grow up and see what kind of upstanding members of society they will be. Then the minute they're ready to test the waters of society in school, we desperately want to shrink them back up into babies again—with big squishy cheeks, toothless smiles and complete and utter dependence on us. These emotions torment and scare me much like the Reds bullpen, but deep down I know I need to show a little faith and just let her go.

So I'd just like to wish my little girl good luck. I'd also like to wish all the parents out there good luck too. We want to think about our kids learning their ABCs and 123s and finding out their future through a game of MASH (in case you were wondering about my results, I will marry Winnie Cooper, have 2 kids, settle down in an apartment in Guam, drive a Green BMW and will become a Genie), but we don't want to think about what that means to us—losing a grip on our sweet little babies. I guess we can chalk that up as another first.

Thankfully I'll have Winnie Cooper to comfort me.

The Life of Dad is updated every Tuesday. Thanks for stopping by and following my attempts to be a good dad, husband and co-ed softball player. I hope you visit again. -- Brian

(Note: This post is dedicated to the loving memory of Matt Donnelly. You'll be missed.)

August 15, 2011

Note to Dads Who Have Daughters: Get Used to Fashion Shows

Dads have a lot of responsibilities. We set examples. We squash bugs. We coach third. We check the closets for monsters every night and assure our kids that it's safe to go to bed. These duties earn us love, admiration and respect around the house. They also earn us bonus points with our wives who are afraid of bugs—especially furry ones with dozens of legs and a face like this.

When you have girls, though, your responsibilities shift a little bit. Sure, you still coach third and check for monsters. But you also sit patiently while your daughters file your cuticles. You let them spend hours brushing your face with make-believe makeup and put bows in the few hairs you have left atop your head.

Basically, you let them make you look pretty.

Some days you aren't up for the physical demands of Beauty Parlor (if you've ever let a little kid brush your face with anything, you know what I mean), so you offer up the eight words that make every little girl's face light up brighter than an iPad: "Why don't you put on a fashion show?"


The other night my wife went to the New Kids on The Block concert (and by "other night," I do not mean "1989") and I was home alone with my two eldest daughters. I mentioned those eight magical words and, before I knew it, the girls had torn through the closet and found their bag of costumes. Tiaras, dresses and monkey hats now blanketed the room. Cinderella-slipper landmines hid under articles of clothing, quietly plotting to puncture my feet. They politely asked me to leave the "backstage area" because I wasn't allowed to watch as they chose their outfits (though I was summoned occasionally to help button and zip things). So I sat patiently in the "showroom," which also moonlighted as my bedroom. This was convenient because the Reds were playing on the TV in the "showroom," which gave me something to do while I waited. 

After 20 minutes, I finally heard a little voice come from the hallway.

"We need music Dad!"

I leaned over and hit our CD-playing clock radio and the CD started to play the song that had doubled as our alarm-clock-wake-up-song for the past 3 months.

"A-wee-muh-way, a--wee-muh-way, a-wee-muh-way, a-wee-muh-way, a-wee-muh-way, a-wee-muh-way, a-wee-muh-way, a-wee-muh-way."

The girls made their way into the "showroom," dressed in a lovely mishmash of princess outfits, dainty hats and their mom's flip flops. I had to announce each one of them as they walked in, like models on a runway—which, admittedly, was difficult to do with one eye watching the Reds blow the lead.

"How do we look?" they asked.

"I've never seen anything more beautiful in my—OH MY GOD, THEY ARE BRINGING IN THAT GUY? THAT GUY?! HE STINKS! GET YOUR HEAD OUT OF YOUR DIAPER YOU STUPID STUPID MANAGER!" Then I paused. Why was I wasting my time watching these bozos on TV when I had two little girls smiling, clamoring for my approval and attention? I quickly turned off the game and grabbed my camera, snapping glamour shot after glamour shot.

"You two girls look great. Why don't you change again and I'll snap more photos and then send them to your Mom. I know she'll love seeing them too."

For the next half hour they changed outfit after outfit, matching doctor scrubs with mouse ears, purses with baseball jerseys, fancy shoes with mermaid attire, and more. I captured all of them on my phone, documenting the event. The show finally came to a close and we all sat in the bed to look at the pictures.

"Want me to send these to Mom?"

"YES!!!!!!!!!!!!" they said. And yes, it did last for exactly twelve exclamation points. I hit a few buttons on my complicated phone, yelled at it and, after a few swears, the pictures finally sent.

"Do you think Mom will like them?" they asked.

"I think Mom will love them," I said.

My phone buzzed. My wife had responded, not with words, but with a picture of her own. And, telling from the smiles on my girls' faces, they loved it more than any response.

Apparently, 100 miles away at the New Kids concert, my wife and her sisters were also playing Fashion Show.

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August 5, 2011

Why Twister is a Dangerous Game for Dads

Twister is a dangerous, dangerous game. Don't let the bright colors, the fun spinny do-hickey and the smiles on your kids' faces deceive you. Don't let the fact that it doesn't ask you to do impossible tasks like draw pictures or spell words or add up all those confusing little dice dots make you think this is an easy game. Oh no sir. Twister is the type of game that gets the person who bought it for your kids banned from your house for 3 years (I'm looking at you, Jennifer Brogan).

What's that? You don't believe me? You're thinking to yourself, "But Twister is a game made for kids. How could it be dangerous?"

Let me tell you the tale of an incredibly handsome Dad who, despite having the flexibility of an aluminum softball bat, thought playing Twister with his daughters was a good idea.

It was a dark and stormy night and I had to find a way to keep the girls entertained. They were tired of sitting on the couch watching me watch SportsCenter—which I didn't understand because that sounds like a very fun thing to do. So I decided to check the hallway closet, which is filled with coloring books, sticker bags and a dust-covered metal structure that my wife commonly refers to as a "vacuum cleaner." The top shelf is dedicated to games and that's the only thing that had captured my girls' interest.

When they first asked me to play Twister, I thought, Sure! Sounds Fun! After all, my childhood memories of the game were positive. I remember a time when I was young and could reach right foot red, left foot blue, right hand yellow and left hand green. I'd twist myself into a pretzel and, after winning, I'd chug a purple-flavored Little Hug fruit barrel in celebration. It was spectacular.

Now I know it'd been a few years since I'd played, but I thought I was still qualified to compete based on this criteria:

Athletic?1 Check!
Likes games? Check!
Knows the difference between my right hand and my left hand? Check and Check!

After explaining the rules, the girls and I were ready to play. We designated my wife as the official spinner and DJ. She appreciated this because, while she wouldn't say it, she was certainly afraid of losing to me. Or of me copping a feel. Or probably both.


Two of the three of us successfully placed our right feet on yellow. The other, and I'm not mentioning any names, decided to dance instead.2


My hand moved over to blue. Just like the good old days, I was proving my Twister dominance. This was easy.


This would be the last call of the game. It may have had something to do with my knee making a loud popping sound. It may have had something to do with my wife checking Facebook on her phone and forgetting that she was the DJ. Though the real reason we stopped the game was because only one of us was still playing Twister. The other two were playing "Let's Ride Dad Like a Horse." This game, as I've learned, is a subset game of Twister where the kids kick, poke, strangle, elbow, claw and bite their way to the top of you and then demand you prance around the house and deliver them to other rooms. Now I don't remember this part of the game from my childhood, but my wife, who broke from her Facebook voyeurism to laugh at my pain, said it was "most definitely part of the rules." She also asked the girls to ride me into the kitchen and get her a sandwich.

And that, my friends, is why you need to stay away from Twister. Or at least come equipped with a saddle and kneepads. Otherwise you'll spend days limping around the office, having to explain to coworkers that you hurt yourself on the craziest sexcapade weekend of your life.3 Other Dads will limp over to you and give high fives in support. They will whisper to you.

"Oh yeah. But it wasn't all bad."
"How so?"
"Well…I won."

Unfortunately I didn't have purple-flavored Little Hug fruit barrel to help me celebrate.4

I think being beer-league softball player qualifies me as "athletic." It also qualifies me as "awesome."

2 Spontaneous dancing is a common side effect of playing games at Klems Manor. Other side effects include excessive rock-bumping and making animal noises.
3 No one will believe this, but most will at least admire your lie.
4 Are you crazy? I'm an adult now. I celebrate with double shots of Vodka. 

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July 22, 2011

The 7 Essentials of a Backyard Swim Club

Every summer our backyard transforms from "place we park our cars" into "Club Klems," an exclusive membership-only water park where dreams magically come true and cell phones unintentionally get waterlogged. The hours are very sporadic. Sometimes it's only open for 45 minutes. Sometimes the staff prepares it for an all-day weekend affair (excluding a short, 2-hour window in the afternoon where the Club shuts down for maintenance—and naptime). Club Klems gets rave reviews:

"It's almost as fun as going to the real pool," says Ella, Club member since 2007. 
"I love playing with the water toys at Klems Club. Is that what you wanted me to say Daddy?" says Anna, Club member since 2009.
"Zzzzzzzzzzzzzz … " says Mia, Club member since May.

Like most backyard swim clubs, Club Klems opens up on those hot, humid days just after you realize you cannot handle another episode of The Backyardigans and just before your wife suggests something silly like doing yard work. It's filled with all the essentials to make sure all have a great time. Here I'd like to share with you the 7 Important Elements of Making a Perfect Backyard Swim Club. Populate your yard with these items and the only thing bigger than the smiles on your kids' faces will be your water bill. 

1. Wading Pool
This is your first purchase. No swim club is complete without a pool for the kids to continually empty with buckets. You fill it up, it empties. You fill it up, it empties. You fill it up, sternly warn the members about your No-Dumping-Out-The-Water policy, and it empties. You'd leave the hose on, but no one adheres to the Don't-Take-The-Hose-Out-Of-The-Pool-And-Spray-Dad policy either.

2. Buckets
What else would the kids use to empty the pool?

3. Spray bottles/Watering Cans
Help them fill up any toy that sprays and they'll water your feet, your pants, your cell phone. They'll water anything in plain sight.  They'll even water your lunch. If you're lucky, they'll water the bird crap off your car.

4. Lifeguards
This position is unpaid, unappreciated and unprotected from getting sprayed in the face. It requires that you calmly resolve disputes, such as "She's had the Dora bucket for almost 7 seconds. SEVEN SECONDS! And she won't give it to me!" It also requires that you keep members from peeing in the pool.

5. Chairs
Whether you have a small butt (like our members) or a big butt (like unnamed people who tried to get me to do yard work), you must provide comfortable seats for everyone. This allows members to kick their feet up and relax. It also allows the lifeguard to put uncooperative members in timeout.

6. Water Table
This addition came to Club Klems in 2010 (thanks to a donation from aunt Jennie). I was skeptical at first, but it's become a fan favorite. Members splash, fill up cups, play with floating toy animals and more. It's a perfect place for those who prefer to play in the water without getting completely soaked. Plus, some members choose to occasionally drink out of it. I won't name names. Let's just say they've been members since 2007 and 2009.

7. Imagination
The truth is, you don't really need all of this stuff to have a good time. All you really need is a sprinkler, energy and street filled with kind neighbors who don't mind if you run shirtless across your yard in order to impress your daughters. (Note: I'll spare the Internet that photo).

It's memories like this that keep members renewing their membership year after year. It's also why Club Klems is my favorite part of the summer. I know one day the kids will trade in their swimmies and Dora buckets for water slides and wakeboards. But until that happens, I'll be appreciative of every hot, humid, soaked-lunch moment. We all will.

So thank you, Club Klems, for the memories. And thank you for getting me out of yard work.

Oh Boy, You're Having a Girl
(A Dad's Survival Guide to Raising Daughters)

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