Fatherly Stuff: September 2013

Sep 24, 2013

What do Autumn, Handwashing and Petri Dishes Have in Common?

Even though I was born a summer baby, I will be the first to admit that fall is my favorite season. Comfortable weather, beautiful scenery, apple/pumpkin picking and deep fried junk food from state fairs are all hallmarks of autumn that I look forward to sharing with my family every year. 

However, with all of the good things that come with it, there are also some negatives that we all have to deal with.  Along with golden leaves and hot apple cider, also comes the stuffy, runny noses, sore throats and fevers. 

Indeed, cold and flu season is among us.

The combination of people in close quarters and the low humidity indoors is the perfect environment for bacteria to thrive and infect the unsuspecting population. This goes double if you or even someone you work closely with has kids that go to school or daycare. Between the exchanging of toys, books and who knows what else, our precious little children suddenly become walking, giggling chemical weapons of mass destruction strong enough to force even the most stubborn of parents into a fetal position, surrounded by used tissues and empty packets of cold medicine wrappers.

With this in mind, I'd like to share a story with you:

A Tale of Two Petris

Prior to the birth of our 2nd child, my wife worked as a kindergarten teacher at a private school. In her classroom one of the biggest rules was both the student and parents had to wash their hands each time they walked in the door. Despite this rule being in place for the good of the greater population a lot of the children and surprisingly, the parents would complain that them having to do this on a daily basis was annoying. 

However, the objections soon came to a screeching halt after the class was introduced to the petri dish experiment. One of the student’s parents was scientist who studied infectious diseases. In order to help my wife teach the class about the importance of washing their hands they conducted an experiment;
Each student in the class was asked to wash their hands and after drying them, their hands were wiped with a cotton swab and placed in petri dishes with each of their names on it. The class then went outside for recess and samples were once again taken from their hands before they got a chance to wash them. The “clean” and “dirty” cultures were put on a shelf in the classroom and less than 24 hours, they were pulled out and observed by the class.

While the "clean hands" sample has only a minimal amount of bacteria culture, the "dirty hands" culture contained a host of harmful germs such a streptococcus and even E. Coli. The students, the teachers and especially the parents were pretty surprised at the results and how quickly the cultures grew.  You can check out the pictures below:

"Clean Hands" culture

"Dirty Hands" culture

So what is the moral of this story? One of the best things you can do to protect you and your family from contracting any kind of sickness is to make sure that everyone is thoroughly washing their hands with soap and hot water for the length of time that it takes to recite the alphabet, or 20 seconds. This should be especially done prior to eating a meal and when coming from indoors. Why is the length of time important? Take a look at the "clean hands" picture again. Notice the two on the bottom left? Well according to my wife, these were two kids who did not follow the 20 second rule and washed their hands too quickly.While there isn't a much bacteria on those two petris compared to that of the "dirty hands", it is still a considerable amount and has the potential to get you sick.

There is a lot of very helpful information about the importance of hand washing on the Center for Disease Control's Website

So if you have anyone in you life that is resistant to the idea of washing their hands properly, just show them these pictures and I'm sure they will reconsider

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Sep 23, 2013

Celebrating Fatherhood at the 1st Annual Dads Matter Too! 5K Road Race

As I type this post, my right knee is aching, my lower back is stiff and (according to my wife) I’m in desperate need of a shower. But strangely, I’m feeling great. 

All of this is a result of being a participant of the FirstAnnual Dads Matter Too! 5K Road Race. Held in Waterbury, Connecticut, this event was hosted by the Department of Children and Families' Region 5 (Waterbury, Torrington & Danbury) Fatherhood Engagement Leadership Team, (F.E.L.T) the Department of Social Services, and the City of Waterbury. 

The focus of the race is to bring awareness to the often overlooked yet crucial influence that fathers have in the lives of their children. There are some people that might look at this event and say something like,"Of  course dad's matter, we all know that... so what's the big deal?" There are so many men out there who are trying their best to be the best father they can,  but unfortunately face many roadblocks along their journey. Among these obstacles include being unaware of their rights as a dad, tensions with their child's mother that can affect their relationship with their child and a US court system that has a tendency to be adverse towards fathers . Complications such as this can be a frustrating experience and can cause some dads to feel isolated.Fatherhood initiatives such as F.E.L.T. put a spotlight on these issues and provide guidance to those who need it the most.

 In addition to the road race, there was also a children’s Fun Run as well has a 1 mile Dad’s Walk. The idea was to create a positive, entertaining, low-cost environment that fathers would be encouraged to bring their children to. And it worked! All around me, I witnessed so many loving and nurturing dads share moments with their kids. It was truly a joy to watch. According to the event brochure, all proceeds: 

"... will be utilized to
sustain ongoing father related events, trainings,
and activities. Proceeds will allow the F.E.L.T to
provide fathers and their children with
opportunities to have access to the following:
movie tickets, sporting/recreational outings, and
activity bags which consist of word games,
coloring books, and stuffed animals."(Source)

One of the favorite activities my 4 year old and I enjoy doing together is jogging along one of our local nature trails while I push him in the stroller. So when I found out about this race, I knew my son and I had to do it as a team. After all, what better way is there to celebrate the joys of fatherhood than to participate in an event side by side with your child? 

Once we got ourselves registered, we were provided free t-shirts and I was fitted with a time keeping ankle bracelet. As we rolled up to the starting line, you could feel the positive energy surrounding the area.  I started stretching and my son followed suit. This was proceeded by a collective group off “awww’s” by some of the other race participants, as thy appreciated his excitement.

Throughout the course, I would jog a good distance pushing my son up and down the hilly course. Then all I would hear is, "Daddy, can I run now?" I would eventually relent and he would hop out and start speeding down the closed streets, with me running close behind. Everyone; the volunteers, the assisting police officers and firefighters, even the passersby on the street were impressed by his efforts and started cheering him on.  Some one the runners who finished actually came back and gave us great words of encouragement to urge us on. It felt like more than just a ran: the comradery was definitely inspiring.

As we finally reached the finish line, the cheering got even louder as my son ran through it on his own. I took a video of the moment, but just to forewarn you, it's pretty shaky. (Hey, YOU try to push a stroller in one hand and take a video in the other after running over 3 miles!).

 After we crossed the finish line with a respectable time of 37.5 minutes (and got a chance to catch my breath), I knelt down and gave him a big hug. He was so proud of himself for finishing and the ear to ear smile on his face in that moment made the entire day worth it.

One the race was over, we were treated with some great music, food, bounce houses, face painting, a petting zoo and a whole host of other fun things to do. In addition to this, the event stayed on mission by having an impressive number of public and private booths that offered a variety of resources offering assistance that fathers can take advantage of.

I did make one critical mistake that almost backfired on me: In the heat of the moment, I told him that he won the race. Like, the entire thing. That would have been all well and good, except for the fact that he noticed that there were a bunch of trophies near the main stage, so he inquired as to why he did not receive one. I told him that the free t shirt that he received along with his "finisher" ribbon were his award.  He probably would have been satisfied with that answer, but there was only one problem; He noticed with his 4 year old powers of observation, that there were a bunch of other children with the exact same shirt and ribbon. Finally backed into a corner, I did what any self respecting dad would do: I said to him, "Yeah , that's true the other kids got a t shirt and ribbon, but I bet they don't also get to go to Chuck E. Cheese afterwards!" After hearing those wards, his face lit up and shortly afterward, we were whacking moles and shooting hoops and doing the "Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes" with Mr. Cheese himself.

Disaster averted.

All day long, from start to finish the 1st Annual Dad’s Matter Too! 5K Road Race was a fun-filled event filled with positive energy, good people and even greater fathers. I felt humbled to be in the company of such a wonderful group who are dedicated to a powerful mission and we look forward to attending next year!

Sep 10, 2013

A Presidental Address, a Father's Prayer

Like most of the United States and probably the rest of the world, I just finished watching the Presidential Address. In his speech, President Barack Obama lays out his case for potential military action in Syria, in the event Russia fails to broker a diplomatic solution with them. In case you missed it, you can watch the video HERE

After the speech was over, I couldn't help but feel a wide range of conflicted emotions. As a parent and a proponent of democratic ideals, I am both angered and heartbroken to hear that potentially thousands of citizens are being indiscriminately attacked with poisonous gas, the victims of which include hundreds of innocent children. Yet, because of the circumstances surrounding the decade long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, I'm skeptical of whether or not we truly know who is behind these chemical attacks. Those wars have left our nation just plain exhausted of seeing our troops on the soil of other countries, meddling in their affairs, sacrificing their lives, yet getting nothing but anti- American sentiment in return.

Throughout all of this, despite how much I try to understand the underlying causes of the conundrum wrapped in a quandary that is the Syrian Civil War, I'm not ashamed to say that it's a bit confusing. There are the Alawites, Mennonites who practice different religions and they're not very fond of each other? Or something. I was able to find the following Washington Post article that provided a rather humorous, yet very informative breakdown of the entire conflict. It's helpful, but I don't think there are enough books in existence that could completely explain thousands of years of racial, cultural and religious differences.

The strongest emotion by far I am experiencing right now is fear. Fear of the unknown repercussions of either US intervention or sitting back and leaving Syria to their own devices. Fear that on the heels of the12th anniversary of the greatest terrorist attacks in our country, that history may be repeating itself if we end up fighting yet another battle in the Middle East, while  carrying within us a sense of uncertainty on whether or not we should really be there.

Immediately after our president finished his address, I shut of the TV and went into both of my sons' bedrooms. I tucked them in and kissed both on the forehead. As they both lay sleeping, I said a small prayer asking God that if it was his will, that they grow up in a world where they can be shielded from the horrors of war. With these emotions weighing heavy on my heart, I almost chuckled at the coincidence of  unwittingly recreating a scene from one of my favorite Norman Rockwell paintings. I bowed my head and once again prayed that in this case, art does not imitate life. 

Norman Rockwell's "Freedom From Fear"(Source)

Sep 4, 2013

A Dad's Thoughts on Why it Shouldn't be All About Miley Cyrus

On a typical Sunday night, I'm usually in bed early after an activity filled weekend of family fun and/or chores. But on the night of August 25th, I was having an uncharacteristic bout of insomnia, so I decided to do some channel surfing. It was because of this that I ended up tuning to the MTV Video Music Awards (VMAs) and my eyeballs were subsequently treated to the twerking sensation that was Miley Cyrus's hind quarters. It was a performance fueled by decadence, wrapped in a layer of debauchery with a little bit of mischief sprinkled on top.


And just like that, the internet was set ablaze. Even I have to admit, I jumped into the fray almost immediately after and gave my initial reaction:

I might've been a bit judgmental...

 The US is currently on the brink of another war in the Middle East, yet it seems as though virtually every news outlet is chomping at the bit trying to cover every nuance of this story that is so popular, it broke all kinds of Twitter records. I can't help but think that somewhere, some PR/marketing execs are sitting around a boardroom table high-fiving each other on a job well done. The articles, blogs and news commentary that you see are more or less uniform in the sense that they all practically nail Miley on a proverbial stake for her hyper-sexualized "dancing". Then, there are the overwhelming concerns from parents of the bad influence she will have on the young, impressionable girls that used to idolize Hanna Montana. You can almost hear the collective clattering of pitchforks and smell the kerosene from the torches as the angry mob begins to form.

But hold on a minute... did anyone notice that the guy Miley was seductively dancing on was Robin Thicke, a 36 year old married man of two children? Where is the outrage for him? Where is his pitchfork mob? The irony of it all is the fact that his father is Alan Thicke, who played sensible father Dr. Jason Seaver on the 1980's hit growing pains. But I digress...

This to me, as both a young male and a father, is where I think apart of the problem lies. Now don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that Miley is not accountable for her own actions. I would even make an argument that  that under the right circumstances, her performance was perfectly fine for the intended age demographic (fully developed, 18+ year olds who are responsible for their own actions) and perhaps the parents who are so concerned should simply do a better job of monitoring their underage kids' media exposure. But in a supposed modern society of gender equality, it's pretty obvious that there are some glaring double standards here.

To get a clear picture of this, you can look no further than your high school years. Remember the guy who was perceived as a ladies' man? The guy who was thought to have had multiple girlfriends, some whom he dated at the same time? He was probably seen as one of the most popular kids in school. Now remember that girl with the exact same reputation? More than likely, she was probably known as "promiscuous", to put it nicely. This is basically how our society has and continues to function today and our current pop stars (and some politicians) are simply a mirror reflecting our own distorted values back at us. Somehow, when it comes to sex, the burden of responsibility seems to shift almost entirely onto women and men seem to be able to get away from accountability and are easily forgiven by their peers.

And our young boys are watching and learning from all of this.

It's an unfortunate but all too real cycle of accepted misogyny that needs to be addressed. Because if we don't, we can never truly refer to our world as equal from a gender standpoint.

So how can we, as fathers help break this cycle? It starts at the dining room table, or on the basket ball court, or even on the hiking trail. Wherever the location, it should be an environment where you and your son spend quality time together and can communicate openly with each other about issues. As men, we need to be able to own up to our role and give our boys/young men the tools that they need to make smart decisions as they get older when it comes to girls, sex and how and the perception of both in the media vs the reality differs. Teach them that the images they see on TV are a pre-packaged fantasy with the intention of selling us a product. Without the proper guidance, it is likely a young man might misinterpret these images for the way actual, healthy relationships work in real life. Developing boys need to learn how to identify and distinguish between the two. Dads need to counteract the negative media influences and make sure their sons understand that women are human beings that deserve respect and words like "bitch" or "hoe" should only be used when describing a female dog or a useful gardening tool, respectively. And last but not least, despite what the lyrics of Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines" say, teach them that telling a women "I know you want it" while one or both of your are under the influence of alcohol isn't foreplay, but rather a potential precursor to a sexual assault charge.

Currently, both of my sons are too young to know who Miley Cyrus is and what she has to do with their potential development, but I'm sure there will be someone just like her in the media when they do reach that age (which seems to be younger and younger as technology evolves). Whenever that time decides to rear its ugly head, here's hoping I'm ready to take it head on.

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