August 23, 2010

The 10 Rules of Cheering on Dad as He Makes Breakfast

Breakfast is a Dad's meal. We eat it. We love it. If our wives would let us, we'd name our children after it. It's the most important meal of the day according to physicians, medical consultants and the sales department at IHOP. So when it comes to crafting a tasty, mouthwatering spread of bacon, sausage, eggs, pancakes, French toast, fruit (and by "fruit" I mean more bacon) and orange juice (and by "orange juice" I mean more "fruit"), there's only one person in each household who will give it the kind of love, care and dedication it needs.

Relax Mom, Dad's got this one covered. 

Just like we are hardwired to squish bugs and make poor fashion decisions, we are hardwired to cook the most awesome breakfasts. That's right! In fact, we cook it in such a scrumptious way that our taste buds go back in time and forgive college-us for feeding college-taste-buds nothing but Ramen Noodles. (Note: Taste buds still unwilling to forgive college-us for drinking Natty Lite).

Now I've never claimed to be good at much1, but breakfast is one frontier I've conquered. I come from a long line of gourmet breakfast Chefs. From my great-great-great-great grandpappy Klems, who I've heard invented the donut, all the way to Roger "My Dad" Klems, who has been credited with inventing heartburn, a fine strand of DNA has been passed along to me—one that makes weekend mornings delicious.

Unfortunately, one thing I've noticed in today's kids is that they don't know how to appreciate Dad when he's making breakfast. They don't realize the precious art form they're witnessing. Instead of fawning over you like the Breakfast Picasso that you are, they sit there like lumps on the couch, watching TV and sneezing in your drink when you aren't looking.

To remedy that, I've come up with The 10 Rules of Cheering on Dad as He Makes Breakfast:
    Rule 1: Never ask Dad what he's making for breakfast. Doesn't matter what he's cooking—it will be awesome.   
    Rule 2: Use magnetic letters on the fridge to spell out "Dad is my Hero." (If you have to, use upside "p" for second "d" in Dad). 
    Rule 3: Applaud each time Dad flips the pancakes.  
    Rule 4: If you have "I *heart* Dad" T-shirts, wear them. If not, skip to Rule 6. 
    Rule 5: SECRET NOTE TO THOSE WHO HAVE "I *HEART* DAD" T-SHIRTS: Dad loves you more than his other kids.  
    Rule 6: No Foam Fingers. Non-negotiable. None of us want to relive the We-Almost-Caught-Our-Kitchen-On-Fire incident of 2008.  
    Rule 7: If a sausage link starts to roll off the fryer and Dad saves it with his spatula, yell "WEB GEM!" and then sing the SportsCenter "Da da da ... da da da."  
    Rule 8: Argue over who loves Dad the most. This will often net you two extra pieces of bacon.  
    Rule 9: As Dad shuffles the eggs onto the plates, start chanting "MVP! MVP!" Then do the wave.  
    Rule 10: After Dad turns off the stove, ask him to do it again, but this time in slow motion so you can "savor the moment."
Read these rules carefully. Memorize them. Pass them along to your children. I know they may sound silly, but I also know that Dad will appreciate his family appreciating him. And if you're not willing to thank him for making a good breakfast, at least thank him for not naming you Bacon3.

1That's a lie. I claim to be good at everything—except for predicting the future2.
2That is also a lie. I can predict the future.
3This is not a joke. He really wanted to name you Bacon. 

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

August 17, 2010

Why Listening to Your Kids is a Real Treat

Sometimes your role as a Dad is just to listen. Listen to sounds, music, those amazingly annoying Wonder Pets, whose voices are the real reason God invented Advil. It's a role that at times can make you cringe and at other times make you upset, but most of the time it makes you thankful that you have a good sense of humor.

Ring, ring, ring.

My 3-year-old daughter simply loves the phone. She loves to dial numbers and to answer it when it rings. She loves to hold it hands-free, between her head and her shoulder just like her mom does. She'll keep that phone squeezed tightly to her ear as she walks around the first floor of our house like a bubbly teenager having deep discussions with her best friend about who is cuter, Justin Bieber or Justin Timberlake. (NOTE: The correct answer is neither. Your dad will give them both black eyes if they come within a 10-mile radius of you.)

What she loves to do most with the phone, of course, is to make phone calls. She'll call her Grandma and Grandpa. She'll call her Nonni and Poppi. She'll call the mysterious voice who says, "If you'd like to make a call, please hang up and try that number again." But the person she wants to call most often is her cousin Chris, who is three months her younger and, according to my daughter, "doesn't have enough dresses around his house to play fashion show."

Now what I love about phone conversations with Chris is that if he's talking to you on the phone about one of his new toys, he'll set down the phone—while you are mid-sentence—get the toy and bring it back to "show you." You applaud and tell him how much you love it, even though for all you know he's standing on the other end of the phone holding a butcher knife or, worse yet, Season 3 of the Wonder Pets.

On one particular evening, my daughter Ella told me she has something "very important" to tell her cousin and "it couldn't wait." Like any good dad, I immediately used that as leverage to make her finish her broccoli.  After that, I made the call.

Listening to a phone conversation between two 3 year olds may be the most entertaining thing any parent gets to witness. It starts out with simple pleasantries, but quickly takes a turn into uncharted territories. No conversation is ever simple and none is ever the same. When Ella called Chris this particular time (when she had something "very important" to tell him), I'm certain that to them, the conversation sounded something like this:

Ella: "Hi Chris. Lovely day we are having, isn't it?"
Chris: "Oh yes, Ella. Simply gorgeous out. Have you seen that the Dow Jones is up several bill-fold?"
Ella: "My Google stock is through the roof. But what I'm even more happy to see is that they've solved world hunger."
Chris: "About time. I had given Green Peace the answer six months ago."
Ella: "Indeed."

Of course, as a Dad who is afraid that "very important" means "I'm running off with Justin Beiber," I couldn't help but listen in and hear the actual conversation—which went more like this (and no, I'm not making this up):

Ella: "Hey Chris, remember that one time I was over your house and you pooped on the potty and then I pooped on the potty?"
Chris: "Yeah!"
Ella: "No wait, remember I pooped on the potty first then you pooped on the potty?"
Chris: "Yeah!"
Ella: "No wait, remember I pooped and peed on the potty, and then you pooped on the potty?"
Chris: "Yeah!"
Ella: "Remember, I pooped and peed on the potty and then you pooped on the potty, and then we all had popsicles?"
Chris: "Popsicles, yeah!"
Ella: "That was awesome."
Chris: "Hold on Ella, I'll get one and show it to you."

I guess solving world hunger will have to wait for another day. Though if you keep listening closely to your kids, maybe one day you'll hear the answer. In the meantime, I've learned it's just best to smile and enjoy what they have to offer now. And, if you're lucky, when they do solve the problems with the world, you'll be there to help them celebrate with popsicles.

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

August 10, 2010

Baby Gates: A Love/Hate Relationship

If I ever try to climb Mt. Everest, I will consider it the second greatest challenge in my life--the first being opening our baby gate. This $60 piece of plastic that separates our living room from our stairs not only keeps our 1-year-old daughter from escaping, but also keeps me from ... well ... escaping. I tug, kick, yell, scream, give it the stink eye—you name it, I've tried it. And yet the gate remains unopened, taunting me. If I ever grow a grizzly beard, it's not because I'm trying to look even more handsome than I already do (though that's a nice side benefit); it's because I can't reach my shaving cream and razor, as they occupy valuable real estate on the other side of that impenetrable gate.

Ah, to be on the other side. If only.

Having a baby gate in the house makes me feel like I'm in prison—not the kind with gang fights and stabbings, but the more dangerous kind with Disney Tea Cups and Tea Party accessories. I stand alongside my 1-year-old daughter, trapped, looking through those plastic bars, both of us hoping that someone, somewhere will come and rescue us. In the meantime, we commiserate and plot detailed schemes to escape our cell over a hot pot of imaginary Disney tea.

When my wife finally strolls down the stairs, she knows what awaits: two desperate prisoners who will do anything to get out of jail. Anna, my 1-year-old, is amazingly smart and uses a combination of the lip-quiver and puppy dog eyes to tug at my wife's soft heart. Brilliant move, my dear, brilliant move! I don't mean to brag, but she got that lip-quiver from me. It's practically a Klems family heirloom.

It worked like a charm. My wife lets her out. Game. Set. Match.

Without hesitation, I turn to my wife and, being the pro that I am, go for the more traditional husbandly act that all husbands use when they want to persuade their wives into helping them out: I flash her my junk. And just like that, my wife put an additional lock on the gate. And put up an additional gate.

The warden has spoken.

My wife claims that opening the gate is easy. You just unhook, lean, lift and violĂ ! It's open. Simple as that. Easy peasy. It's a claim that belongs in the Hall of Fame of Ridiculousness, with its jersey hanging right between "by spending money we are actually saving money" and "New Kids on the Block are a fun, talented band."

I really should be able to figure it out. After all, I'm a college graduate for God's sake. I'm a critical thinker. I can walk and chew gum at the same time. Hell, I put the gate up! Of course, had I known how difficult it would be to open it I would have put it up while standing on the other side.

It's times like these I realize how much my 1-year-old daughter Anna and I have in common. We're both trapped by circumstances that are beyond our control. She's pinned in by a gate for her own safety. I'm pinned in by the comfort that the gate provides me in knowing my daughter is safe. Neither of us really wants the gate, but both of us need the gate. The reasons are somehow different and the same all in one.

Even though the gate may be irritating and frustrating and surprisingly resistant to the stink eye, I'm glad it's there. I'm glad it's protecting Anna from a dangerous situation. I'm glad it forces me to pause—if even for a moment—and share time with my daughter, sipping imaginary tea and enjoying this short period of her life where she needs me to protect her. The gate is proof of my love and if that means I'm stuck, then so be it.

As I contemplate that thought, my 3-year-old daughter gets up off the couch and walks over to me.

"Hey Dad," she says. "Where's Mommy?"

"Upstairs," I say.

She smiles and gives me a warm hug. Then she turns, lifts the gate open and walks on through. "Click," goes the gate as it closes behind her.

"WHAT? Son of a ... "

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

August 2, 2010

Planning a Kid's Birthday Party

Planning a 3-year-old's birthday party is similar to playing a game of Tetris. It starts out simple--pieces moving slowly all around you, fitting into place with ease, keeping your stress level to a minimum. But before you know it … BAM! It's moving at mach-5 speed and drops a square block on you when you're in desperate need of a skinny guy. And if you survive that ... BAM! You get hit with a squiggly. And then BAM! …

Game over.

Of course, it's important to note that if your wife hadn't forced you to kick that "nasty" Tetris addiction years ago—you know, the one that caused you to forget her birthday (twice)—you'd have been more prepared for this situation. Wives, huh? Never thinking ahead.

With only two young daughters under my belt (Anna, 1, and Ella, almost 3), my experience with birthday-party planning has been limited. But I've learned enough to know that Dads don't do any of the planning; we are designated "runners." We run to get everything. We run to store to get cake mix and icing. We run to the post office to pick up stamps for the invitations. We run to the bank to ask about the availability of "Birthday-Party Loans" with low, variable interest rates, because—and trust me on this—the event will cost double the GDP of Texas. In other words, we run until our feet are sore, our wallets are empty and our wives are happy.

These are also known as Wedding Vows.

I used to do birthday runs haphazardly, making mistakes and causing headaches for all the parties involved (namely, my wife). Now I abide by these five rules to ensure all goes right:

1. Get a list with instructions on what your wife wants. Without this, I'd be lost. And, like most men, I will never stop and ask for directions.

2. Make sure those instructions are specific—down to brand, color, aisle it's in, cost per ounce, and whether you should use paper or plastic bags. If my wife's list isn't detailed beyond a reasonable doubt about what she wants for the party, I'll undoubtedly get the wrong thing. Case in point: If she asks for 12 extra-large Mylars, there will either be 1) an extremely embarrassing moment for me at the pharmaceutical counter where the pharmacist laughs and points me to the balloon counter or 2) a birthday party filled with oddly shaped "balloons" and extremely uncomfortable in-laws.

3. Take the kids with you. I've found this has the dual benefit of getting in your wife's good graces by giving her some alone time to put finishing touches on the party while also giving you an excuse in case you forget something. Well Dear I had it in my hand ready to buy, but then Anna knocked several bags of Doritos into the shopping cart and I must have accidentally set it down. Note: This will also explain why you purchased seven bags of Doritos.

4. Ask what time you need to be home. It's best to know your ETA before you leave. If you take too long, your bonus points from taking the kids with you will disappear. If you come home too early, you may have to do something senseless like mow the lawn. Knowing when to be home allows you to pace yourself—and to (sometimes) stop off with the kids for ice cream before heading back.

5. Buy extra toilet paper. This has nothing to do with a birthday party run, but it's still good advice that generations of Klems have sworn by.

I'd like to tell you that after the running around is finished, you can kick up your feet, relax and catch up on "Days of Our Lives," but you can't. That's not what good Dads do. Good Dads also put things in perspective. Like when your wife is worried there won't be enough chairs, you offer to un-invite her mother (which is a joke, sort of). When your daughter, the birthday girl, panics that there won't be enough "Dora the Explorer" stuff to go around—even though she's surrounded by Dora invitations, Dora napkins, Dora plates, Dora balloons, Dora placemats, Dora fruit snacks and a Dora cake—you point to the two cans of Dora Spaghetti O's in your cupboard and share one with her. And when your one-year-old is terrified that she's getting left out, you let her eat your half.

While the number one role of a Dad during birthday-party planning is to be a runner, the number one role of a Dad during life is to keep everyone grounded. It's our role to ease concerns, crack jokes and tell our families that all will be OK. It's important to remind everyone that even if we're a couple of chairs short or we forget the Dora windshield wipers or we get a squiggly piece when we need a skinny guy, we'll be fine. The party will be a success. Good times will be had.

And if it all goes wrong, at least we'll have seven bags of Doritos to comfort us.

The Life of Dad is updated every Friday (barring the call of family duties). 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