Being human… and a stay-at-home parent

So, given recent events on our website and some recent questions regarding how to deal with filling a non-stereotypical role on various stay-at-home-dad (SAHD) groups I’m a part of, I thought it appropriate to write about those topics.  My hope is that this will help raise awareness and increase consideration when dealing with those dads who are taking a more supportive role in the household, but the reality of it is that those that read this are probably already aware and considerate.

First things first, there will always be ‘haters’ and the decisions you will make will more than likely upset someone. Knowing that helps increase the level of resolve in making some choices particularly where your family is concerned, but sometimes even that level of resolute awareness isn’t enough.  Especially with choices that are emotionally charged and/or deeply rooted in a sense of self.

Choices that revolve around becoming a SAHD and not being the person who provides the paycheck for the family may seem easy to deal with on the surface (like hearing someone in the line at the grocery store say, “Man, I’d love to not have to go to work”) but they’re not.

We’ve been raised in a patriarchal society where the man is the person who brings home the money (and even then is judged on how much he brings in and his position at where he goes to bring that money in) and the woman is the person who stays at home with the kid(s) and is the caretaker of the house. We’ve seen just how our society reacts to those that break from those stereotypes.  While times are changing and considerate awareness is growing (in aspects of more than just SAHDs), there are still those situations of intolerance and ignorance.

We’ve all, by now, heard the statement that when dads are alone with their children, they’re ‘babysitting’. While it may have been said in a joking manner, it’s not.  It’s derogatory and demeaning. It’s a thought process that belittles and invalidates the efforts those fathers spend with their child.

We are all people, encountering other people in a single moment, and placing assumptions on motivations of actions in that moment is just plain ignorant.  Most people I meet are not Sherlock Holmes, so they should stop acting the part.  We do not know what led that person to that moment, we do not know their motivations for doing what they are doing and certainly can’t read their thoughts to discover who they are.  Even friends and family we’ve spent significant time with aren’t open books or 100% predictable.

There is an easy way to help curb this behavior, that, unfortunately requires a level of awareness that people tend to ignore:  Ask yourself, before you speak, what it is you expect to receive by saying what you are about to say.  We may not be able to read the thoughts of others, but our own thoughts are right there.  Listen to them. Talk to them.  Have a conversation with them about this situation.  In other words, think before you speak. Sometimes this is an epiphany to some, particularly when a father, who was the ‘bread-winner’ is now the one at home.  For me, it opened up a whole new level of respect for those parents who stayed at home.

Given the new path being forged by the SAHD, it can be difficult to be resolute in the face of confrontation with what has always been viewed before as inadequacy. Especially when it’s new to the particular SAHD or when there are issues of self-worth being worked through in accepting the new role. To those who are, new and veteran alike, I have some things to say (and I’ll keep saying them):

You are awesome!  You are doing what’s right for your family, your child(ren) and yourself. You are setting an example of the wonderful diversity inherent in humankind. You are courageous enough to face the potential societal slings and arrows. You are showing your love to your partner and to your children.  They see you being present and they see how you deal with those obstacles that breaking from the normal parameters can bring. You are not only their parent, but also their teacher.  You are their window into how to cope with a world who doesn’t always accept things that break from stereotypes.  They also see that you are human, imperfect and emotional.  What they see, they become.

Show your children what it means to be human.  What it means to be a parent.  What it means to put forth that effort in a way you’re not used to and a way that breaks from the norm.

Show others respect, for we don’t know what brought them to this moment or why they would say hurtful things (whether intentional or not) but have the courage to call them out on it, with the faith that your child will see you, and will follow suit when they’re older and able.

You are their example of what they can become. Be you, so that they can be them.

So, if you see a stay-at-home parent, whatever role, be considerate and understanding.  They work hard on more than just physical chores.

Stalking the Epilogue

Posting about Mrs. de Winter and addressing her openly yesterday was nerve wracking.  My natural response to conflict is to curl up and make myself as small of a target as possible.  Bringing this issue to light had as good of a chance of escalating matters as it did of resolving it.  Add in the issues I’ve been having over the last few months with feeling safe, and I was a bit of a wreck when I hit post.

Several friends offered suggestions on how to deal with this: mainly to document everything.  One, Priya, advised letting Stephan’s ex know what was going on.  I really didn’t think that would help.  Honestly, I was stuck in a mindset of fear and anger that all my months of work to feel safe had been undermined by someone I had never met.  Writing that post was as much as I was capable of.   And when the commenting started up again, I felt I had made a horrible mistake.  Rather than nipping the unpleasantness in the bud, I had fed the troll.

That’s when Stephan stepped in.

As can be guessed from his Viking Dad moniker, Stephan doesn’t shrink from confrontation.  Instead he puffs out his chest and says, “Come at me, bro.”  He wrote Mrs. de Winter, her husband (who we had believed to be the author of one of the comments*), and his ex.  What followed was an unpleasant back and forth that established:

  1. Mrs. de Winter has no desire for a resolution with Stephan.
  2. Nonetheless he shouldn’t hear from her again (although whether this means she’ll never comment here again, or e-mail him was not made clear).
  3. Stephan’s ex had no idea this was going on. She offered that she thinks Mrs. de Winter is acting out of love and did offer to talk to her friend and clear some things up.
  4. Like many people, Mrs. de Winter doesn’t have a good understanding on what constitutes libel.  Posting, say, that there is a warrant out for someone’s arrest when there is no such warrant is a libelous statement.
  5. Mrs. de Winter’s husband doesn’t care “what Stone Age gods” we worship.  This actually has nothing to do with the situation.  I just thought the religious bigotry (coming from out of nowhere in the conversation) is funny in its confusion.**

It is clear that this will most likely never end.  Mrs. de Winter and her friends will probably continue to read this blog.  There’s not much I can do about that.  I considered the idea of quitting; just stop posting to the site and retreat once again to the safety of Facebook.  If I can face the challenges of going against the norm when it comes to other aspects of my life, I should be up to the challenge of doing so under the scrutiny of someone who harbors my family ill will.  Stephan and my friends have my back, which makes a difference.

So this is less of an epilogue as an unsatisfactory denouement, I guess.  I promise the next post from me will be much more fun, and much more satisfying.

 


*It turned out we were wrong on that point.  Apparently, Mrs. de Winter recruited friends to read and comment on the site.

**If our religious practices are so offensive just how upset would he be if he knew, for example, I’m bisexual, or that we’re pro-choice, or that we’re practically socialists in our politics. The list of ways in which our beliefs go against mid-Western norms is long and varied after all.

How to talk about your stalker when she isn’t stalking you

I have dealt with my fair share of unpleasantness online.  As a publisher there was rape writer: an author who sent graphically written rape scenes to Miscellanea.  At least l think they were meant for that market, he never included a cover letter or anything else to indicate it was a submission.  There was the writer whose cover letter consisted of “I’ve been doing some writing since I’ve been institutionalized.”  There was the man who became angry when I didn’t respond to his offers and suggestions on how I could improve my business plan.  That one I had to eventually block.

Offline I have dealt with what I called my convention creepers: men in my LARP community who had a hard time distinguishing between their in character interactions with me and the out of character reality.  I could tell them, “Hey, your attentions are making me uncomfortable, so could you please back off?”  Most of the time that worked.  And the couple of times it didn’t, Stephan would step in and scare them off.

Last night two comments were posted to this site.  They came from two different e-mail addresses and under two different names, but the content was similar, and familiar.  I showed them to Stephan who laughed and rolled his eyes.  Mrs. de Winter was back in our lives.

Mrs. de Winter* first came to my attention in 2008, I think.  I was on LiveJournal back then, posting about costuming and sewing.  I saw a new profile looking at my journal … a lot.  These were weekly, sometimes daily visits.  It seemed a bit weird, but I didn’t give it too much thought until one day when Stephan saw her profile picture.  “That’s Mrs. de Winter,” he said.  Who?  It turned out that my new #1 fan was a friend of Stephan’s ex.  What had just been weird became a little concerning.  “She’s into fashion, maybe that’s why she’s reading your journal,” Stephan suggested, trying, I think, to make me feel better.  Maybe.  In case not, however, I blocked her from commenting on my journal.  It was a precaution against my space becoming a drama-soaked battle ground.

Over the years it became clear that Mrs. de Winter wasn’t reading my journal for my thoughts on corsets and publishing.  The first place I mentioned my pregnancy was in an entry there.  A day later Stephan’s ex wrote to him about it.  I began to censor myself, not posting as much about upcoming conventions, especially ones we attended in Michigan.  Part of me felt I was making a big deal about nothing.  So she was reading my journal, so what?

But she was reading my journal because Stephan didn’t have an accessible internet presence.  His Facebook, like my own, is locked down.  For years the only way Mrs. de Winter could get any information about him was through me.  I stopped using LiveJournal a couple of times, letting months, even years, pass between entries.  No matter how long the hiatus, though, within a week or so of posting, she would be back, peeking into a part of my life that I had chosen to make public.

Over the years it is clear that this vicarious creeping has affected the way I interact online.  I think twice about what personal information I post online.  I abandoned LiveJournal altogether.  I don’t post pictures of my children’s faces in public because I don’t want her knowing what they look like.

Last night, reading the two angry comments, I was nauseous and near tears.  The content wasn’t aimed at me (except in the most oblique way), nonetheless it was upsetting.  This site is supposed to be a safe, positive place.  With two comments that safety was shredded.  I am once again reconsidering posting our upcoming events.  I will be telling our daughter again that no one but her parents are ever to pick her up from school.  And again, a part of me thinks I am overreacting.  To hold onto this much animosity after seven years, though, is irrational.  Who knows how much further she would take things, given the chance?

Blocking her, ignoring her, deleting her comments, none of it has made a difference after seven years.  And so, I’m taking a different approach this snowy morning.

Dear Mrs. de Winter: I don’t know you, nor do you know me.  We’ve never met.  Never even exchanged a word.  But you’ve been a part of my life for almost a decade.  I want you to know that I hold you no animosity, no anger, no hatred.  I don’t know you, so how could I have any feelings for you?  I do feel fear though.  Your attentions makes me feel unsafe, it makes me fear for my children.  All you have done all these years has been to watch me, and it scares me.

Please know none of your comments will ever see the light of day on this site.  Comment moderation was turned on when it was first set up and I will never approve anything you write.  This is to your benefit, as one of your posts last night was libelous.  I have, however, taken screenshots of the comments, and will do so with any future ones, to hold on to in case I need to build a legal case.  I do not wish for it to come to that, however.

I do believe you think you are being a good friend.  Your loyalty is commendable, but any hurt Stephan may have caused is between him and his ex.  You are overstepping your bounds.  It is said that holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.  Perhaps it is time to let your anger go.

Please leave us alone.

I wish nothing but the best for you.

Blessed be.

 

 


*Not her real name.

Setting Fire to the Past

I’ve made so many moves over the years it’s hard to keep track of them all.  Besides the physical moves I’ve made—from Wyoming to Chicago and various suburbs thereof—I’ve made personal, emotional and relationship changes.  It is surprising how much distance one can cover without ever having to take a step.

Through all these moves I’ve carried a trunk with me.  It was a high school graduation present from my grandparents.  The trunk has been a bench, a footstool, and a table, as well as being the holder of those things I couldn’t bear to toss, but had no need to be out in the open.  Journals, letters, cards, old ids, and other ephemera.  For the past couple of years it has sat under my desk, home to the garbage can and a laptop that I don’t use any more.  I haven’t opened it, partly because I haven’t had anything to squirrel away (e-mail, Facebook and WordPress has digitized much of my correspondence and thoughts); but also because it is full.

In mid-December I dragged the trunk out.  I was looking for a notebook, and was certain it had to be there.  This happens on occasion. I’ll be seized by a need to find something and I tear apart the house in search of it.  Usually, I fail to find whatever Lost Ark I’m chasing; if it were still around I would have found it easily.  I’m then stuck with a mess and a heavy weight of frustration that my quarry managed to escape the nets of my organization zeal.

This time was no different.  The notebook, and the information therein, was nowhere to be seen.  In my digging through the trunk, I flipped through the dozen-plus journals there.  They were varied: cloth covered ones bought in a three pack from Sam’s Club in the early 90s, spiral bound ones from Borders, “leather” covered ones, five subject Mead notebooks, even a manila envelope stuffed full of loose-leaf paper.  This represented more than a decade of my life: from about 1995 to 2005.   There were some random pages from earlier and later, but the bulk of my regular journaling ended shortly after Charlotte was born.

As I flipped through the pages all I read was misery.  Every randomly picked page was a chronicle of how desperately unhappy I was.  Did I write only when I was upset? Or did I only write of my unhappiness because that’s all there was? I think a little more of the former than the latter, but there was no denying that what I had committed to the pages was unpleasant.  I wanted to reach out to my past self and tell her that it was going to get better … in a way.  I can’t reach her, though.  She is in the past and trying to cast back would only slow down the momentum I have gained.

But I didn’t have to keep carrying the millstone of unhappiness.  What did I gain by keeping these journals around? Evidence of my unhappiness during that time?  Did I really need it?  I had my memories, if ever I wanted to revisit them.  Which, again, wasn’t going to help me move forward.  I had learned all I could from that time.  There was nothing more these journals could tell me about myself.

I grabbed two cardboard boxes and filled them.  The letters, cards, notes, pictures and miscellaneous bits and bobs stayed.  The journals went.  For the first time in years there was room in the trunk.  Room for more pleasant keepsakes: love notes from Stephan, birthday cards from my children, perhaps even a letter to my future self, telling her that I am okay.  She can let me go and move on.

The first of January I took the journals out to the fire pit and burned them.  The day was sunny, if cold, and windy.  Despite the helpful nature of the weather, burning a decade’s worth of misery isn’t easy, even when it is bound in paper.  You can’t just set fire to your past and walk away.  You have to tend to it, or else it won’t be fully destroyed.  Blackened bits of paper constantly tried to escape, flying high and forcing me to run around the yard to catch them.  Some were still burning and had to be stomped out.  I had to open up the journals with a poker to make sure all the pages burned.  I got a surprising, and disturbing, insight into just what goes into a book burning.

The whole process took three or four hours.  As I worked I kept thinking, “This is who I was, but it is not who I am now.”  As the paper turned to ash, I felt the truth of it more and more. I returned to the house cold, smelling of smoke, my hair peppered with ashes.  I can’t say if I have completely divorced myself from the misery of those past years.  However, I won’t have those words sitting at my feet, their ambient unpleasantness influencing me.  And if that isn’t a solution, it’s at least a start.

 

Who is Viking Dad? (in about 750 words)

Well, I can start by saying that I’m not the guy in the YouTube video of the same name. That’s a start.  I was adopted, raised in Michigan, spending the school year in the lower peninsula and the summers in the upper peninsula.  I also, with this blog as a record, am living for and through my family.

Born in 1970, I displayed signs of Alopecia Totalis (meaning I have no body hair at all) starting when I was two years old.  It made elementary school a bit rough, as even those children in the minority still had each other, where I was the only one with that condition.  I found the wonderful worlds of Gary Gygax (Dungeons and Dragons) in the summer of 1980 (I was 9) and embraced it whole-heartedly.

I also went through an awkward (just like everyone else) time in that social circus we call junior and high school.  I was not the average kid. I didn’t like or play sports, I didn’t have an affinity for anything other than escapism by not really being present in my own world and substituted by living in a fantasy world.  Thanks to R.A. Salvatore, in the mid to late 1980’s I had a realm to escape to.

I had anger management issues. Having been picked on and made fun of my entire childhood and adolescence (and not having a solid sense of self at all, nor any confidence to be able to shrug it off as I desperately wanted to be a part of a group, to feel like I belonged), I repressed all that hurt and anger.  I then found an outlet for it, though it was unhealthy and hurtful.  I worked out lifting weights (not all that bad), trained a bit as a boxer (still not all that bad) and then started picking fights (bad).   Being beaten within an inch of my life (maybe a little bit less than) by several people put things into perspective for me.

I turned to theatre.  I got a scholarship at the local community college and started succeeding. I transferred to a four year university and at the direction of everyone other than myself, I failed. I moved around, got married, got divorced, moved some more, tried again and this time got my B.A. in Theatre and started feeling really good.

Then I went to graduate school and it all went downhill again. I moved around some more, got married again.  I found solace in escapism once more, in the worlds of darkness presented by the NPO (then) called the Camarilla, now known as the Mind’s Eye Society.  Things went downhill once more and I got divorced… again.

It wasn’t all bad, though.  I met the shield-maiden in the Cam/MES and it has lead to the happiest, healthiest, most fun relationship I’ve ever been in (going on seven years now, married for five of them).

In 2008 I moved to the Chicagoland area, in 2009 I married the shield-maiden and in 2011, our son, Benjamin (aka Benvolio, Viking in Training) was born.  He has an older half-sister from the shield-maiden’s previous marriage.

Together the four of us work to not just survive, but thrive and live in this world.  We are trying to live creatively, choosing happiness over struggle.  We are in debt, always. We have struggles, perpetually.  We have bills, things breaking down, issues and obstacles from both of us having previous marriages.

Despite all that, we choose to embrace the moments of happiness instead of dwelling on the struggles.  The moments shared playing and working together:  Bonding over Minecraft and Nachos; Planning for the future of training with swords and archery.  In the process of teaching, I am learning the real life issues of helping my children grow up in a world that is nothing like the one I grew up in.

My children see me working on tasks that break stereotypes.  I cook, I bake, I do dishes, I do laundry. I make their lunches, and help with the homework.  I bake bread for our family two to three times a week.  I make sure the kids have a decent breakfast.  I play with them and involve myself in their creativeness.  I say, “Yes, and…” (most of the time).

Today, Ben turns 4.  Today celebrates over 1200 days of successfully raising our son and helping him survive (despite our setbacks and failures during that time).

Today, we have birthday cake for breakfast.  Happiness.

Find your moment of happiness and embrace it!

 

Making it Work: Nickels and Dimes

We’re a month into the grand plan.  December being fairly low key, with only one semi-disaster, I feel we got a decent baseline on income potential outside of conventions.  The following is our net income from our creative efforts in December:

Etsy Sales $103.94
Amazon Royalties $1.40
Survey Gift Cards $25.00
Total $130.34

The Etsy sales are pretty self-explanatory. The majority of that revenue went to paying for the new cutting table and a cutting mat.

The Amazon royalties come from two books Stephan and I wrote and self-published  a couple of years ago.  We never did any sort of promotion for them, and they usually net us a couple of bucks a month.  Our goal up until this point has been to get enough in royalties to pay for a bottle or two of wine.  Maybe 2015 will see that goal reached.

The gift cards come from doing online surveys.  They don’t really count as coming from our creative endeavors, but I include them anyway.  They are helpful in getting supplies (like the 1 lb of dice we bought for Midwinter).  And we are stocking them up for birthday gifts and perhaps the fourth season of Game of Thrones when it comes out in February.

It’s clear that our income is going to come from various sources.  There’s not going to be a single paycheck every two weeks.  As the months go on we’ll be adding more revenue channels: Amazon Affiliate links, an Etsy store for Stephan, e-book design services from me, perhaps even a Patreon account.  We will make every little bit count.  And I will keep chronicling our revenue.

The Zombie in the Basement and the Gremlin in my Head

To say that I have been happy the last few weeks feels like I am confessing a horrible secret.  It took forever to admit it to myself, let along to say it out loud—even to Stephan.  I feel guilty about my happiness.  Jerk Brain pipes up immediately to point out that I don’t deserve to be happy.  There are many reasons, the topmost being that I haven’t fulfilled my duties with regards to Eggplant and the Spellbound & Spindles anthologies.  No matter that there’s nothing I can do at the moment.  I am waiting on the printer.  Jerk Brain counters with the argument that I wouldn’t be waiting on the printer if I had gotten this done in a timely manner.  Ergo: I shouldn’t dare be happy with that unresolved business shambling around in the basement like a zombie I’ve trapped but have yet to dispatch.

More than the anthologies, though, the admission that I am happier than I have been for years brings up the question of why I was so unhappy.  When I reopened Eggplant I viewed it as a return to what I loved.  As time passes, I have started to view that move as a step backward.  With every bag I sew, every pattern I draft, I see that I never let myself enjoy my work as a costumer.  I looked at it as what I was doing to get by until I could do something “meaningful” again.  And now I find that I enjoy the sewing so much more than I did running Eggplant.

I have struggled to admit all of this.  It can be taken to mean that I regret going back to publishing, and that’s not what I am saying.  I’m glad I reopened Eggplant, even if I had to close it down again.  I am so very proud of what I published, and I won’t have to live with the regret of not having tried it again.  Still, it is clear that Eggplant was a way station on my journey, one that I wasn’t meant to revisit.

Until I can finish all of the Eggplant business I will continue to argue with Jerk Brain.  It’s a tenacious little gremlin, one that knows all of my insecurities and weaknesses.  That’s why it’s attacks are so successful.   And that is why I have decided to publicly admit that I’m happy.  One of Jerk Brain’s tactics is the fear of being judged by others for my happiness.  I make this admission to cut the legs out from under one of the gremlin’s most effective barbs.  And perhaps once I have laid that zombie to rest I will be able to banish Jerk Brain to the back closet of my mind.  If not, at least it can’t use my happiness against me any more.

Pink Shoes

Our son, Benjamin, is a little dynamo of a kid.  At three, his personality is oftentimes bigger than his body.  It’s delightful and frustrating and mesmerizing at once.  He’s a kid of varied interests: robots, planes, princesses, Star Wars, Jake & the Neverland Pirates, baby animals, jewelry, Legos, the colors blue and pink.  He likes to throw himself down, pretending to “die”.  He rough-houses with his father.  His current best imaginary friend is Princess Leia, who more often than not is symbolized by a Lego minfigure he constantly “dresses” with different torsos, feet and hair styles.  She always, however, has one of the two girl heads we have.*

We took Benjamin shoe shopping last month.  As his current pair of sneakers were being held together by the sheer force of his personality, it was time to upgrade.  Thanks to the generosity of others, we hadn’t needed to go shoe shopping for him before.  We hit the local Meijer and headed to the kids’ shoe section.  Upon arrival, Ben immediately pointed out the pink shoes.  He didn’t even look at the others: those were the ones he wanted.

Watching my golden-haired boy, I felt a twist of fear in my gut.  I thought of all the articles I had read over the years about boys being bullied for liking My Little Pony, or for having long hair, or for any number of other ways they might deviate from accepted gender norms.  He’s only three, not even in preschool yet, but I was already preparing myself for the unkindness the world could hurl at a person who is different.  I hated that fear.  We are trying to raise Ben to be free of gender norms, to be himself and to feel free to express himself without fear.  But I couldn’t stop the reluctance inside of me, even as I said, “Okay.”

Stephan agreed.  If his son—who is constantly mistaken for a girl—wants pink shoes, then pink shoes he’ll have.

We were getting ready to go check out, when another pair of shoes caught Ben’s attention.  They are blue and light up.  The first pair, no matter how pink and pretty, couldn’t compare to shoes that light up.  Ben changed his mind.  And I felt relief.  And I felt betrayed by my relief.

Raising Ben (and Charlotte) as we are is a constant learning—and unlearning—process, one we are committed to.  Should Ben want pink shoes the next time, it will be a little easier, I think.  Baby steps.  Or in this case toddler steps.


*That we only have two girl heads (three if you count the Lego McGonagall, which Ben doesn’t) and 3 billion + “boy” heads is pretty damn annoying.

Making it Work: The First Obstacle

Our plan is pretty solid: I sew like a despondent Disney princess.  Then, instead of hitting multiple small conventions throughout the year (as I did before) I only vend at one or two large conventions.  In theory this gives me time to make plenty of stock, and will let us walk out of a convention with a fat stack of cash.  There’s plenty of risk with this plan, though.  It means that our cash flow is severely low for months.  As we are living hand-to-mouth as it is, we don’t have any room for the unexpected.

Which, of course means the unexpected happened last week.  I was working in the workshop when my cutting table collapsed.  It was a slow motion sort of disintegration, like a building that had been dynamited.  I stood next to it torn between laughter and annoyance. Continue reading Making it Work: The First Obstacle