my 11yo participated in a “completion” ceremony at his elementary school. I say this to the school’s credit, because there was no mention of graduation anywhere. There was no circumstance, and only a few ounces of pomp. Just a gymatorium lined with folding chairs, certificates printed on mid-grade card stock, and a maudlin slide show with a Phil Collins-saturated soundtrack.

Oh, yes. And speeches.

The principal said some things, some alumni said some more things, the teachers rephrased those previous things, and six students came up one by one to say things in a disarmingly precocious way.

I love the idea of inviting members of the grade to write a brief speech and then deliver it in front of a large crowd. Public speaking is an important skill that builds organized thought and feeds self-esteem, and anyone allowed to do so, especially at this young age, gets a strong leg up toward understanding how crucial it is to be able to present ideas cogently before an audience.

The thing is, they chose six kids to speak from the 53 in the class. And all six were girls.

I mentioned this to my son’s teacher, and she sheepishly replied that the boys’ speeches were all a little “scattered.” (At first I thought she said “scatological,” which made all kinds of sense.) But then I had to fight hard to keep it together when the large annoyance balloon burst in my head.

First of all, so what? I mean, I get that these speeches serve as marketing to the parents that “Look what a great job we did educating your kids!” But does every one of them have to read like Churchill during the blitz? Will the Earth wobble off its axis if a fifth-grader’s 200 words don’t have a taut throughline?

And even if most of the boys’ essays were lacking, was it too much trouble to sit down with a couple of the more promising authors and work with them to craft speeches that were more presentable? Are we teaching our kids, or merely evaluating them?

I’m surprised to realize how ticked off I still am about this, over a week after the fact. I think it sent a crappy message to the boys that they don’t measure up, and it’s put me on my guard to look for warning signs that either of my sons is becoming educationally discouraged.

Boys are having a hard enough time keeping up in an educational system that is failing them. Many of them don’t even have a male teacher until they’re teenagers. They’re learning that education is the girls’ thing, along with responsibility, nurturing, and other characteristics of adulthood, while males are more aligned with wreaking havoc and creating messes that the girls will clean up.

I’m not saying that stereotype isn’t true. But we’re doing everything we can to perpetuate it, and if we want it to stop, and help mold better men and better dads, where better to shift the perception than when the kids’ brains are young and squishy?

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As I entered my barber shop this morning, I got to the door at the same time as the kid who parked next to me. When I noticed he was wearing a Brooklyn Cyclones cap, I asked him if he was a fan. Turns out, he played for them this summer.

This was a big deal for me. You don’t see a lot of Cyclophernalia around here, and I’ve been a big fan since the franchise came to be in 2001. When I lived in New York City, I often made the trek to Coney Island to sit a few rows off the field, in a stadium a few hundred yards off the beach, with a Nathan’s hot dog in one hand and a program in the other. (Fun fact! It actually takes less time for me to fly from Detroit to LaGuardia than to ride the subway from Inwood to Surf Ave. I used to get off the train and earnestly wonder if Obama was still president.)

While we were waiting, we talked about his summer experience living in Brooklyn. The team lived in a hotel not far from the Barclays Center, and they were bused to and from the stadium for every home game. They didn’t see much of the boardwalk, the carnies, or the Cyclone itself. Furthermore, since they had only a few nights off all season long, they didn’t even see much of the rest of the city, either. For the most part, his summer was spent in a hermetic bubble of play, practice, travel, and hanging out playing video games.

At one point, another guy in the shop asked him whether he was playing in any developmental leagues over the winter, and he said, “I think I might be a little old for that.” And since I am me, I made a crack about how I have clothes older than he. (I was specifically referencing my R.E.M. Green concert t-shirt, which is almost old enough to run for Congress, and would likely govern more effectively.)

We laughed and shot the shit, as you do in barber shops. It was convivial and manly and fun, and I was enjoying myself.

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Readers have noticed that I like burying the lede. I can’t help it. I like the idea of a build-up and reveal. Wow ’em in the end, and you’ll have a hit.

That’s not going to happen this time around, though. This lede is coming at ya, right between the ribs:

Last week, this 47-year-old, non-obese, non-diabetic non-smoker had a heart attack.

Exactly as you might expect, it came about unexpectedly, while I was on the treadmill at the gym. Further unexpectedly, I didn’t feel any chest pains or waves of numbness down my left arm. I just started feeling light-headed and nauseated, and since it was 96° and the gym’s AC was out, I thought I was having a heat event instead of a heart event.

It turns out, a genetically predisposed hunk of arterial plaque had ruptured and formed a clot that ruined my whole day.

The good news is that there is a lot of good news. For one, I’m home and feeling fine. I spent a day in the ICU, a day in the not-ICU, and was released a day earlier than anticipated. And all of the doctors I’ve seen (including my GP, whose parents probably met when I was in college) predict that, after cardiac rehab and acclimation to the mini-pharmacy I’ll ingest every day for the rest of my life, I’ll be better off than before.

For two, my boys were blissfully unaware of the worst of it. They were with their mom in my house, and all they saw was me conjuring my Benigni-esque best while I was attached to all those machines and drips and doodads.

For three, my older son didn’t buy any of it. I’ve decided that he is actually Benjamin Button, 11 going on 64. Because when I got home, he asked me, “Dad, did you have any conversations with yourself while you were alone in your hospital room?”

(I’ll pause a second while you take that in.)

The truth is, of course I did. About my life, my mortality, whatever legacy I’ll leave. And all things considered, it’s all going pretty well. I love my job, I’m a big part of my boys’ life, and my ex-wife and I have patched our friendship up enough for her to move in here (and sleep on TwoBert’s lower bunk, of all places) until I’m cleared to drive a car. Which could very likely be today.

Yes, I know. For someone avoiding stress, having your ex move in doesn’t appear high on the priority list. But I like to think of our situation a lot like how Georgia put it: “We will always be a family of four, although without a marriage at the center of it.” For that, I will always feel weirdly blessed.

And for four, this 47-year-old heart-attack survivor is going to turn 48 next week. It will be the best birthday ever.

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After several minutes of careful introspection, I think we need to ban the word “lean.”

Lean has so many pejorative connotations, such as how harsh economic downturns are often referred to as “lean times.”
Lean directly correlates to body image, especially among women who starve themselves and/or develop eating disorders to maintain the lean physique that our judgmental society expects.
Leaning indicates an inclination, but is non-committal. If you’re leaning one way, you can just as easily revert to normal perpendicularity and then lean the opposite way, bending to the will of the strongest gust. To lean is to be an equivocal, tentative, unsure, mealy-mouthed, disingenuous, vague, obsequious, ineffectual, servile, little toady.
Also, lean is often paired with mean, which is not nice.

Bracing for the big thaw

This is my first post since Halloween, and a lot’s happened since:

my parents celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary;
our Movember team raised another $15K;
the Christmas season came and went, and I barely noticed it (more about that later);
I appeared on Michigan Public Radio to talk about Dad 2.o; and then
Dad 2.014 amassed 84 million Twitter impressions and globally out-trended the Super Bowl on Super Bowl Sunday.
On top of all that is coldest, snowiest, polar vortexiest winter I can remember, one that has left me with a fleeting memory of whatever grass looks like. And it has recently occurred to me that the huge snow fortresses on either side of my driveway are a remarkably apt allegory for the way I’ve lived my life since the turn of the millennium.

It’s been a slow build, but a build nonetheless. It began when I started losing jobs, the first of three, in the fall of 2000. Then my marriage ended, I moved away from my friends and family, and (in what was very nearly the coup de grace), I had a heart attack.

So much of these last 13+ years has been about loss that it’s been increasingly difficult to invest emotionally in much of anything. Why be vulnerable and love something, even something as precious as life itself, when it’s all destined to go away?

Protect yourself. Be genial, be kind, be who you need to be for the people who love you and depend on you, but keep your heart locked away, under a layer of frozen insulation.

I think that’s a pretty shitty way to live, so I’ve decided not to anymore.

And the first step, I think, is laying “Laid-Off Dad” to rest.

I spent ten years with LOD as my nom de blog, but I don’t see the value of identifying with those three layoffs any longer. (It’s just so last-decade, y’know?) So I’m changing my blog name and my Twitter handle, and for the first time in a very long time, ending something on my own terms. It feels glorious.

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The boys will arrive later today for the dadportion of their week, and 2) I’ve spent most of my morning eradicating all the evidence of my debauched, kid-free bachelorhood. I may raise some eyebrows when I say this, but I truly believe responsible parenting means rinsing all that caked vomit out of the drapes and recovering every bullet casing — even the ones that roll under the fridge — in order to be the best role model I can be.

As I was gathering up all the undergarments and drug paraphernalia from the grotto, I found myself thinking about work/life balance. It’s been a huge topic among moms forever, but in this time of elevated expectations, dads are feeling it, too. I wish I could write more about it, but the truth is I’m terribly unqualified to do so.

Because at this moment, right now, pending the inevitable cataclysmic event that will screw everything up, my work/life balance is really great.

I’m not sure how it happened, but I guess it dates back to my dad, whose bankers’ hours brought him home at the exact time every night. Door, kiss, couch, martini, right before dinner. The steadiness of his routine is sort of amazing, when I think about it. But that’s the model I had to work with when I envisioned my own fatherhood, and I think it’s served me pretty well.

I had The Crazy Jobs in my 20s and 30s, but since I’ve been a dad I’ve been a financial editor, then unemployed, then a high-school math teacher, then unemployed again, then WAHDing it up in my current gig. All of which got me home every night, kept my weekends free, and afforded me lots of time with my kids, even after I split up with their mom.

And that’s a big point: It’s not lost on me that a big part of this balance is being single. Frankly, cramming “engaged fatherhood” and “engaged couplehood” into a nebulous term like “life” seems terribly reductive, since each of those is a full-time job completely separate of your full-time job.

I’m grateful that circumstance has let me be such a big part of my kids’ lives. And even though I’ll likely die alone, it’s good to know that, when my sons come home, they will find me there, waiting for them on the couch. Usually after I’ve just finished vacuuming all the cocaine out of the cushions.

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