Fatherly Stuff: October 2013

Oct 24, 2013

My Very First Time

Do you remember your first time? How it made you feel? Did it change your view of world as you knew it?

I had a first experience that was just like that.

During my preteen years, I lived in an ethically diverse neighborhood in Jersey City, NJ. One day  on the way home from playing in the park with my friends, I decided to stop at the local corner store to buy some snacks. I walked in, greeted the clerk at counter and went to the other side of the store where all the junk food was. I searched for a while,  brought my snacks to the clerk and paid for them.
After paying, I turned to walk out, but before I could, the clerk came from behind to cash register to block my path and demanded that return what I stole. Dumbfounded, I insisted that I didn’t steal anything. He balked at my claims and told me to put my hands on the counter. My heart was racing with fear, but eager to prove to the clerk that I was innocent, I complied. That's when he began searching my pockets and shirtsleeves for the “contraband" that I supposedly had on me.  He was unable to find any and he eventually let me go, but not before saying to me, “I couldn’t find it, but I know you stole something. If you ever come back here again, I’ll call the police!”
I remember walking home after that, my hands were trembling with anger and confusion. The taste of my tears as they rolled down my cheeks made the experience even more bitter for me.

And that's how I was racially profiled for the first time.
Despite it being my first, strangely enough,  it wasn't a foreign concept to me. Even at that early age, I already had an acute awareness of what it means to grow up Black in America. All my life, I've been educated about the struggles our people endured over the centuries and accepted what happened to me simply as a self-evident truth of being born with a skin color such a mine. I knew it was wrong, I knew it wasn't fair, but I understood that there were people in the world that were going to judge me on things that had nothing to do with the content of my character. You simply do your best to not let it bother you, push forward and thrive in spite of those obstacles.
So when I got home and my dad asked me how my day was, I told him it was fine and went to my room. I never said anything about it because I thought, what's the point? Racial profiling has been going on long before me and telling someone about it isn't going to change anything.
That's probably why I never spoke about the instances that occurred later in my life. I never talked to anyone about the times when walking home from school, police cruisers would pull up beside me inquire about my whereabouts. I also never told about the countless times I would walk into a store about would be followed or the white women who would clutch their purses and sometimes even move across the street as I walked towards them from the opposite direction. Did it hurt? Of course. Should I have told someone? Probably. But hey, that's just a reality that  is routine for someone who is guilty of LWB, or Living While Black. .

So when I read the story of Trayvon Christian, a young man who was racially profiled when he purchased an expensive belt from a high end department store, wrongly accused of fraud and subsequently arrested, I had mixed feelings about it. While I was both saddened and angered at the treatment of Mr. Christian at the hands of both Barneys and the NYPD, I was not in the least bit surprised. In our world, prejudice is the norm, rather than the exception. It is a existence that I’ve reluctantly accepted from the time that I was that little boy being patted down in a corner store. However, the fact that Mr. Christian is fighting back, coupled with the large amount of media attention this incident is getting, is encouraging. When he was released from custody he could have easily remained silent and written off what happened as part of the territory of being a minority. But his reaction is an indicator of the times. The only way to combat racial profiling is to not remain silent and be unafraid to speak out against these injustices. Mr. Christian’s actions, however small they might be, gives me hope. Hope for a future where my children can walk in a store and the worker sees only one thing: a customer.

Wouldn't that be nice?

Oct 23, 2013

Ultimate Party Meatballs Recipe

Before I had kids I thought that I was a pretty awesome cook. Back in my college days, I would routinely concoct meals on my Foreman Grill that were in my mind, gourmet caliber. And compared to my other college roommates, I was probably the equivalent of Emeril. But with most things, experience is the best teacher and being a parent and sharing the cooking duties with my wife has allowed me to hone my skills and now I’m pretty decent in the kitchen. The irony of it all however, is now that I have a little culinary ability; the demands of balancing a job and parenting  two small children leaves me with little time to cook. 

That’s why I’m always happy to discover awesome dishes, like the Ultimate Party Meatballs from Heinz®, Johnsonville® and Ocean Spray®. 

The opportunity to put this recipe to the test came at a perfect time because we were invited over to a neighbor's house for dinner and needed something to bring. Its convenience, versatility and great taste make it the perfect recipe for holidays, appetizers, at-home tailgating to watch the big game, taking to a pot luck, last-minute guests and visitors that drop by, weekend get-togethers, family celebrations, holiday open houses and many other occasions!

Depending on how much time you have, this recipe can be cooked on either the stove top or slow cooker. Due to the time constraints we were under, we decided to forgo the slow cooker and prepare the meatballs on the stove.

 Here is an info-graphic of the easy to follow recipe:

 The recipe is ridiculously easy and didn't require much effort at all. My biggest concern however, were the kids. At ages 3 and 4, they are at the picky eater stage where they might refuse anything on their plate. But the sweet, tangy flavor of the meatballs was good enough to to keep even them both happy.

From kid to adults;Satisfied guests all around!

Overall, the Ultimate Party Meatballs is a simple, go-to recipe for entertaining and a variety of other occasions. It certainly was a crowd-pleaser for us and we definitely plan on keeping these ingredients stocked in the fridge so we can be ready for any other last minute events that might pop up!

Disclosure: I received Heinz®, Johnsonville® and Ocean Spray® products in exchange for sharing this recipe. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

Oct 15, 2013

5 Lessons My Kids Can Learn From the Government Shutdown

Whelp, America, it was nice knowing you. We're a little over two weeks into a government shutdown and if the President, senate and congress don't get their act together, we’ll be leaping head first off of the dreaded fiscal cliff in less than 24 hours. When that clock runs out, the US will be unable to pay any of its bills that allow our country to function normally.  I can only imagine that the landscape of our country will be transformed into something out of “Mad Max”. 

mad max

But hold on; don’t get fitted for your leather outfit just yet.  As an eternal optimist, despite how dire the situation may seem, I think there might be at the very least a sliver of a silver lining. Resourceful parents can make the most out of the shutdown by using it as a unique learning opportunity for their children to teach them about some of life’s biggest lessons . Here are the five that I came up with: 

1) Always Play Nice with Others, Even If They Share Different Opinions 

Being the middle child of 5 kids, I am certainly no stranger to a little sibling conflict. Be it a difference of age, opinion or taste in TV show, we often found ourselves in a bit of a power struggle that was often resolved by either our parents or whomever could beat up the other.  Now that I am a parent of two young boys, I am fully aware that I will be caught in the middle of the same clashes of my childhood and it will be my job to teach them how to sit down and rationally workout their differences, or else face the consequences.   Mr. President, members of the Senate/Congress, are you all listening? If not, I have a chair that is facing a corner in my house with each of your names on it.

2) TV/Social Can Distort the Truth
You literally can’t turn on the TV without hearing about the government shutdown. That isn’t to say that an issue of this magnitude doesn’t deserve media attention.  However, between Twitter hashtags, to doomsday clocks counting down to “total destruction”, to the ominous music that plays at the start of each news piece; it’s pretty obvious that most media outlets are capitalizing on this political gridlock in order to capture ratings. I really don’t blame them for doing this; they are businesses after all and their profits are directly related to how many eyes see their pieces.  However, with that being said, I think that being able to distinguish between “rating grabbers” from “real news” pieces  is a skill that should be developed at an early age. You want to teach your children to look at the news with a critical mind so they aren’t easily swayed based on whatever direction the wind is blowing.  

3) Being a “Big Boy/Girl” is About Making Hard Choices
I’ve listened to a lot of commentary from members of the senate, congress, the house majority/minority leaders regarding their take on the shutdown. One of the most interesting observations I’ve made was the fact that of all the excuses and finger pointing to the other side, not one person is holding themselves accountable for the cause of this deadlock. It almost seems as though each side is content with blaming the other, thinking that’s good enough for the countless Americans who are being deprived of services because of their failure to negotiate. I’m waiting for someone to step up and- here’s a novel idea- actually put the needs of the American people before their own political agendas and be willing to do what it takes to come to a compromise, simply because that’s that government is supposed to do. When that elected official appears, I will point to that person and say to my kids, “You see that (elected official)? Now, HE/SHE is a hero and that is someone who you should what to be like when you grow up”. Until that day comes, I will continue to remain silent.

4) A Little Fiscal Responsibility Can Go a Long Way
Why is the US in this predicament in the first place? Putting political biases aside, the facts are clear: the country routinely spends significantly more than it has funds available. That may be a oversimplifying an issue that is complex, but that's basically what happened. While a nation has vastly more obligations than a family, I think the shutdown can still be seen as a cautionary tale of what happens when someone lives beyond their means for far too long. Planning, implementing and sticking to a budget are crucial skills that can be taught to kids at the earliest of ages that will serve them well throughout their lives.

5) Despite How Bad it looks, Democracy Does Work
As crazy as it sounds, everything that is happening is not evidence democracy is faulty, but proof it actually works.  If this were a dictatorship, the POTUS would have absolute, unquestioned power to do whatever he felt like. However, there are branches of the government that have the power to prevent certain policies from taking form if they do not agree with them. This, ladies and gentleman is called a system of checks and balances and it is playing out right before our eyes. Although,  I’m pretty sure that a nation-wide shutdown and potential default probably wasn’t what our forefathers envisioned when they included those fail safes. All of the unnecessary drama would be enough to make some people want to give up on government, indeed based on what I’ve seen on some of my social media feeds, many people already have. One day when my kids are old enough to understand this trying part of our history, I will explain to them that throughout history, all great governments go through defining moments that eventually shapes their evolution and progress. We will be able to look back on this troubling period with the benefit of hindsight and see how our country has learned from that time and progressed to the even greater country that we are today (fingers crossed!)

So, what will happen if our distinguished members on the hill fail to reach an agreement by the time the clock runs out? I honestly have no idea, but I shudder to think of the possibilities. The only thing that I’m certain of is that I, like most Americans, will still have a family to raise, no matter what they decide. Government compromise or not, my kids will still expect me to put food on the table, to put clothes on their backs and to answer those unanswerable questions. All I know is that I will continue to do all three …and then some. 

Question: Have you learned anything from the US Government Shutdown?

Oct 13, 2013

Sensitivity and Boyhood

In the past, I've written about how becoming a father has gotten me more in touch with my sensitive side and how it has helped me become a better parent. This is obviously a great quality to have as an adult, what about for young boys? It is possible to be too sensitive at too early of an age? If so, at what point should a parent be concerned? These are the type of questions that I've been asking myself lately due to some behavior that my oldest son has exhibited.

The other weekend our family had a play-date with a friend who also has two children of similar age. We were in the backyard and they were playing a made up game where one of the kids would toss an over sized Frisbee as hard and they could and race to wherever it landed. Before I tell you what happens next, I should mention that earlier that morning, it rained a little, so the grass was a slippery.  

You can probably see where this is going.

After about a few rounds of Frisbee racing, my son’s face eventually found out firsthand exactly how cool and damp the grass was as he found himself losing his balance. His playmate, not being one to miss out on a good opportunity, bolted to the Frisbee, scooped it up and effectively declared herself the winner of the game.  My son, grass stains on his knee and dirt on his cheek, watched as she reveled in victory, with the Frisbee held high over her head. My wife and I instantly gave each other a "here we go" look, as we knew exactly what was about to happen . The tears welled up in my son’s eyes, his bottom lip quivered and he let out of wail so loud, you would have thought someone impaled him with an iron spike. Mind you, he wasn’t hurt at all; he was simply upset that he lost the game. 

I went to him to make sure he was okay, gave him some comforting hugs and provided a few words of encouragement, explaining to him that we all can’t win every single game and to try again. But I have to admit, I did hesitate, if only for a fraction of a split second. This is because the behavior that he exhibited in that backyard was only the tip of what seemed to be a larger iceberg.

For example, take earlier today. On a car ride home, he cried over the fact that he couldn’t decide whether or not he wanted chocolate covered pretzels or CheezeIt mix for a snack. The day prior, he cried out of frustration because he was having trouble figuring out how to ride his new bicycle. There was also that time that the cried because he kept coloring outside of the lines.

These, along with a number of other events are pretty much routine when raising a boy who is hyper-sensitive. To be clear, I want to point out that in many respects, he is a typical kid. He is very independent, is quick to to take risks and often rebuffs my attempts to help him do most tasks before trying them on his own. In addition to this, we're constantly roughhousing together. However, he is at his core very emotional and seemingly trivial  things are enough to turn on the waterworks.

So why does him being so sensitive concern me so much?

As a dad, I often think about how I interact with my boys could potentially affect their long term development. As a result of this, I guess what I was worried about is whether or not me being quick to comfort my son could be considered “coddling” because it poses the risk of making him too “soft”. The last thing I would want is for my son to face the world, unprepared for its harsh realities. It’s often said that “nice guys finish last”,and in the jungle of life, it seems as though the males who exhibit signs of hyper sensitivity are the old and sick gazelle, waiting to get torn apart by ravenous lions. With this is mind, I've wondered what, if anything, I should be doing to toughen him up. In the story when my kid caught a face full of grass, was me coming to his aid and comforting him the wrong thing to do, or should I have just stood by, let him cry and figure it out on his own? Where is the line between over-parenting and tough love?

After some thoughtful reflection on this issue, along with a conversation with my wife, I’ve come to the conclusion that instead of discouraging his sensitivity, I should wholeheartedly embrace it by continuing to be there for him whenever he needs me, especially at this early age.  It is an unavoidable fact that one day, both of my children will grow up and carve their own path in a world that can at times be unforgiving and cruel and they will have to figure out how to overcome those adversities on their own. In a world with a seemingly never-ending flow of pessimism, I am thankful to have a child who is so in tune with his feelings and is unafraid to express them. This is a quality that will serve him well as an adult. So often I have encountered men who are that are self proclaimed "tough guys". These are the types who are quick to anger, random outbursts and could probably benefit from sensitivity training. His compassion and gentle nature has the potential to change the hearts and minds of those around him, exactly the way it has done for me. Therefore, I don’t think that me being emotionally distant and tougher on my kids is the most effective method of preparing them to face that time in their lives.  I want both of my kids to be able to look back to their childhood as a time where no matter how low, or afraid or sad they were feeling, their dad was always there to pick them up, to kiss their scrapes and make things better. From those tender memories, they will be able to draw reserves of strength and hope during a time when they need it the most. 

By searching for my own answer, my son has once again taught me a valuable lesson by exposing my own false perceptions of masculinity. The love that I have for my boys gives me an ever growing desire to become a better man and as a result,  a better dad to them. That is what gives me the strength and insight to search within myself in order to thoughtfully examine those perceptions that eventually develop a greater understanding of this ever-evolving concept of fatherhood. It’s my goal to use these experiences to successfully guide them into adulthood. This is the path that I have chosen. My son is sensitive and I'm damn proud of it

Question: What are your thoughts on young boys and sensitivity?

Oct 11, 2013

Harvesting the #PowerofthePeanut

It’s been about a year and a half since I picked up blogging as a hobby and what a journey it has been! What started out as a constructive way to sort out my thoughts and feelings about becoming a dad early in life has evolved into something so much more. With each and every blog post that I publish, I'm sharing a little bit of myself- my fears, hopes and special moments in my life- and the response has been overwhelming. I'm so thankful for all of the feedback that I constantly get from my readers; from regular parents to fellow bloggers. I like to think that as much as I try to "teach" through my personal stories, it has been returned back to me many times over in terms of the insights shared by others within our little community. When you really think about the fact that we are all individuals from all parts of the world, who are able to uplift each other by swapping stories and sharing knowledge, it's truly awe inspiring.

As silly as this is going to sound, I have to give credit to a little peanut who inspired me to write this reflection. Yes, I said a peanut and no, I didn't fall off my rocker. Mr. Peanut, the monocled mascot of Planters, has channeled his inner Tony Robbins and has become a motivational speaker. Don't believe me? Well, you can see for yourself:

The video is entertaining for sure, but if you crack open the shell (sorry couldn't resist the pun), you'll see, just like I did, there is a real, valuable message there.

As Mr. Peanut gets personal, he talks about how people doubted him and did not see his true potential to be an essential influence in the world. Despite the naysayers, he manages to become the successful (and delicious) peanut that he is today, simply by believing in himself and harvesting the "#PowerofthePeanut". I can totally relate to that message, especially when it comes to my writing. If you would have told my friends and family a couple of years ago that I would be helping people through my writing ability, they probably would have laughed at you. Although I would have considered myself a bit of the nerdy type in high school and in college (I used t read encyclopedias and watch documentaries for fun), that part of my personality was overshadowed by the the fact that I was also a multi-sport athlete during that time. As I matured, I thankfully was able to break away from that stigma and not only make good use of my talent, but also be proud to display what I have accomplished so far.  As cliche as it sounds, I eventually came to an understanding that I cannot worry about what others think of me and my ability to embrace all my aspects of my persona, from nerdy to athletic, has overall made be a happier person.

So, yeah. Mr. Peanut and I are practically kindred spirits. Now, can someone direct me to the nearest monocle store?

 Question: What type of obstacles did you have to overcome en-route to accomplishing your goals?

I was selected for this opportunity as a member of Clever Girls Collective and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.