Miscellaneous, Parenting

The Daddy Box

Today is set aside to honor and to remember fathers. I tell my boys each year that on this day I don’t want them to make themselves scarce, or to wait on me hand and foot – I want to spend the day with them and do something we all want to do, and to enjoy being a dad. Where we go and what we do is up to them (within reason). This year they’ve opted for one of two choices – canoeing, which is something we do once or twice a summer; or if the weather doesn’t allow for outdoor fun going to see a movie we all want to see.

I hold no particular memories of Father’s Day with my dad. Certainly I gave him cards and the occasional gift and a phone call in the years when we were speaking – but none of these occupy any particular real estate in my mind and recollection. Dad and I had a very strained and even non-existent relationship for many years. Even after we reconciled, ten years prior to his death, things weren’t always smooth sailing. Dad even, while upset with me for not being able to visit him for more than a month, told me a story one day that ended with him saying he likely was not my biological father, and couldn’t possibly be. I look too much like him and other men in the family to truly believe that, and yet for some time I wondered if it might indeed be true. I never pursued it, but for a while I wondered. Ultimately, though, I resolved in my mind and heart that he was the only father I’d ever known – that I was a grown man, with a family of my own, and didn’t need to go in search of my identity. I knew who I was, and that was what was most important.

My father passed away two years ago. I think of him every day and miss him very much. When he died the assisted living facility that he called home for the last eight years of his life boxed up his belongings for my brother and myself. There wasn’t much, and like my recollections of Father’s Day in relation to my dad, his belongings didn’t occupy much real estate. The clothing Dad left behind was either donated or discarded – his few other meager items divided between myself and my brother, and a hat for each of my boys that Dad wanted them to have one day.

I keep a small decorative box in a drawer of my dresser of those things I chose to retain. It measures perhaps 10 inches by 10 inches. It is nowhere near full. A few photographs, his comb, a pen he kept in his pocket daily, a small notepad he wrote in, his wallet, and his watch. After 83 years of life Dad left very little behind. None of it is valuable to anyone but myself, and yet it is the only tangible link I have to my dad other than to look in a mirror. I don’t have a shirt I can put on to imagine it being a hug from dad now that he’s gone…I don’t have anything he ever made for me to hold in my hands, imagining his touch as he crafted the item. I have, for the most part, only memories – and not all of them good ones.

Several years ago now I realized a long-held dream and became a father myself. A wonderful little boy came along who still amazes me to this day with his kindness and compassion and ability to make me smile and laugh. Another boy, who I cared for as an infant and then had to love from afar but never considered any lesser than my adopted son is in my heart returned to my daily life where he remains to this day, filling me with awe at his strength, resiliency, and courage. Both boys call me ‘Daddy’. I didn’t ‘make’ either one of them, in the biological sense. Their looks, their physical traits, their DNA come from other places and other people. That does nothing to detract from my love of them and commitment to them. I didn’t give them life, I just get to share it with them. I do give them what I can – security, stability, caring, compassion, the knowledge I’ve accumulated over the years, and a deeply rooted desire to be a better parent to them than I feel my dad was able to be to me in my childhood. What they give to me outweighs anything I ever do for them.

Earlier this year I had to give them difficult news – that being that my husband and I had decided to divorce. They took it with some difficulty, for their own reasons. People say, and have said, ‘children bounce back’ and ‘children are resilient’ – and yet I still spent many sleepless hours thinking about the fact that I didn’t ever want them to HAVE to bounce back from that if it were at all preventable. In the end, though, it became a necessity, for the good of everyone involved. The boys have questioned the ‘why’ and offered their own ‘what if’ in the process, and I’ve told them both they did nothing to cause it, and therefore there is nothing they can do, nor should they try, to fix it.

A few days ago one of the boys gave me a ‘gift’. It wasn’t wrapped, nor did it have a fancy bow on it. He didn’t have to shop or order it online. It had no price tag attached to it, and yet the value of it, to me, like the few tangible remembrances I have of my dad, is immeasurable. It’s a single sheet of paper, with pictures and words on both sides. The pictures on the front side of the paper, one labeled good and the other bad depict my soon to be ex and I on one side (the good) with the words ‘will you marry me’ and on the other side (the ‘bad’) saying ‘We’re getting a divorce’ with two boys flanking us. In the lower right corner of the paper are the words ‘next page’, instructing me to turn it over, where I found, just above two small drawn faces topped by curly hair, the following words:

‘Meaning we were sad and still are but whatever makes you happy makes us happy and what makes you sad makes me sad.’

In a different spot in my bedroom I have another decorative box, larger than the one housing the last effects of my father. It’s rectangular in shape, perhaps 15 inches by 30 inches, hinged like a suitcase with a clasp to hold it shut. Inside the box are construction paper Father’s Day cards, small rocks, art work, school projects, questionnaires they filled out about what I look like and what my likes and dislikes are, letters to Santa Claus, a couple of shirts, and several other items that the kids either gave to me or represent a special occasion we shared or something we worked on together. I call it the ‘Daddy Box’. It, to me, holds something beyond the memories we have thus far made, for which there is no box large enough to hold them all. It holds things we created together, things that we both touched and held; the tangible evidence of a fraction of the love I have for both of them that they can perhaps one day hold in their own hands and reflect upon the day we made this or that, or the times I helped them button up that shirt, or the day we walked on the beach together and they picked up a small rock and presented it to me as if it were a diamond.

Today I’ve added an item, the sheet of paper described above, to the ‘Daddy Box’ in the hopes that my son will know, one day when I’m gone, how precious this was to me and how much comfort it gave to me to know that one of the things he has, whether it’s through any influence of mine upon him or not, is the ability to see beyond his own needs and wants – to hold the happiness of another up before him and offer compassion and understanding to them, despite his own feelings. It’s gestures like this that give me an inkling of the man he will hopefully become, that both of them will hopefully become, and the fathers they may one day be to children of their own.

I hope they both create a ‘Daddy Box’ of their own. I hope they one day experience even a small portion of the joy and happiness with and from their own children as I do with and from them. I hope that their ‘Daddy Box’, as well as I’m sure my own will, becomes two boxes, then three, and on and on.

But more than that, I hope theirs are filled with as much love as mine is for both of them.

Happy Father’s Day.




Strictly My Opinion

Why The School System Needs A ‘Snow Day’ Makeover

I awoke this morning, like many other parents in the Boston area, expecting 6 – 10 inches of snow in my driveway. There are perhaps four…if that.  My family was sitting at the kitchen table eating dinner last night at 6:30 pm when the call came in that school was being cancelled for today.

The kids, as kids do, rejoiced having another day off this week, on top of the day off Monday to observe Martin Luther King Jr. Day.  They looked forward to mountains of snow to romp in with their friends when they got up today.  They’ll be lucky if there’s enough to make a decent snow dwarf, let alone a snow man.

This snow day comes on the heels of the first two school days of the calendar year also being cancelled due to snow…we did have ‘more’ on those two days..it was a bit more ‘treacherous’ out there than it looks to be today…..but not the ‘apocalyptic nightmare’ that was predicted….either then or now.

When I was a working person the company that employed me did not offer MLK Jr.’s birthday as a paid holiday. If you took the day off you used either one of two personal days the company offered, or a vacation day.  The company, which more than 75% of the employees can perform their jobs for remotely (from home) did not, also, offer ‘work at home’ days for parents AND commuters alike.  Whether you travelled 5 or 50 miles to get to the office, you either came in or you took a day off from your personal/vacation days bank. This week, along with the two unscheduled days off January 2nd and 3rd, would have meant four full days of work being necessary to take off between January 1st and 22nd of the new year for me as a working parent.

In my childhood we woke at 4:30 in the morning on winter days where ‘inclement weather’ was predicted and sat down in front of the t.v. as soon as the news was on to watch the bottom of the screen ticker tape scroll of names for the schools that would not be open, praying to see our own school’s name in this Wall Street-esque NASDAC scroll of storm closings…..I’d sometimes watch it two, three times just to make certain there wasn’t some error and the school name was positioned out of alphabetical error, or added at the eleventh hour before I anticipated the arrival of the bus.

My mother, the custodial parent, likely prayed for school to be in session as hard as we prayed for it  to be out of session.  It’s a vastly different landscape when you have 2 or (if you are lucky) 3 weeks of vacation time allotted to you by your employer than the three months of summer and two additional weeks of vacation that school kids get.  If you have to use up all your vacation time for snow days, what’s the point of having kids on vacation at all, really?

That said….how realistic is our school administration being in relation to the working world of parents in the 21st century and their needs to cover all the vacation days, holidays, sick days, and storm days that our kids have? Gone is the era of ‘stay at home moms’ being the majority of the community. These days having both parents working is the norm.  Some families have one night shift worker parent and one day shift worker parent just to avoid the exorbitant cost of daycare, which isn’t really that much when you break it down hourly for a rate, but factored into a family budget each month, it’s a lot…especially for multiple children.  In most cases, it’s like making an additional mortgage payment each month to have childcare.

Ever since getting laid off, I have tried to come up with different scenarios in which I can earn a living (since unemployment won’t last forever) and contribute to the household finances but still avoid having to pay for childcare by being available to my kids and having to take unscheduled days off for storms/sick days/school holidays/vacations.  We can all have insurance through my spouse’s policy, thankfully, and no longer have to consider it as ‘income’ to me at tax time, so that is no longer a concern.  It does remain, however, that we cannot exist as a single-income family, even without childcare costs being a part of the equation.

In coming to this realization, I have to build into my search the school schedule and the needs of my kids for at least another five or six years until they are old enough to take care of themselves during the day (and even that estimate of the timeline involved is a stretch…a best case scenario).  In looking at potential employers, the list of items I need to consider before accepting a job, because I ‘choose’ to have children, has grown from ‘how much do they pay and what kind of insurance coverage do they offer and what is the environment like’ to many, many other considerations.

-How long is the commute from home in relation to sick days and time it would take me to get to the school to pick up one of the kids if they are sick, or if the school closes early for weather considerations?

-How flexible is the schedule for working parents on arrival/departure times?

-How many vacation days can I plan on simply to cover all the school holidays and snow days and MAYBE take a long weekend for myself during the year to recharge my batteries?

-How much leniency is there to work remotely on a snow day and not have to use a vacation day or a personal day?

-How flexible are they with the need to cover parent/teacher conferences each year and taking ‘hours’ off instead of entire days?

-How flexible are they with allowing a parent/caregiver to use a ‘sick day’ for someone they take care of/are parent to that is sick, rather than a vacation day?

This is just the ‘off the top of my head’ list of considerations for me.  It means a whole lot of research to be done on how a company considers the balance of work/personal life in relation to how they value their employees.  I understand that they have a business to run, and that is their top priority, but I know there has been some shift in the attitude of businesses in relation to their ’employees’ also being ‘people’ and ‘family members’ who have obligations outside of the office.  I estimate that my concerns and considerations are pretty much ‘the norm’ for the majority of working parents these days whereas most families do not have a ‘stay at home’ any longer.  I also do not have family members in the area to call on for ‘last minute’ things like sick days and snow days, unlike when I was a child and one of my aunts would show up in her curlers and head scarf and I’d go home with her for the day because Mom was working and my aunt worked at night (or not at all some times).

Speaking as a parent, I’m grateful that the safety of my children is important to the school administration.  Speaking as an ’employee’, to have to burn through an entire day for the LACK of snow that is on the ground as I used to have to, is beyond frustrating to see your vacation time dwindle or be depleted entirely throughout the first couple of months of the year for storm days as well as having to make arrangements for the school vacations coming up in February and April and explain to the kids that we aren’t actually ‘going anywhere’ as their time off does not mean their parents have the same time off.

It’s a changing world all around us, each and every day brings something new, something ‘re-imagined’, something ‘upgraded’, something ‘2.0’.  Having entered the realm of parenting eight years ago, and now having two school-aged children and a ‘two-fer’ on the amount of conferences, head colds that send them home, etc., that come with having children, I’m of the opinion that our school system needs a ‘makeover’ in their scheduling, or at the very least in their handling of storm days.  True, weather is not an ‘exact science’ – but having a storm day today in the Boston area, for three inches of snow, speaks to a need to re-evaluate how we determine what days are taken as storm days, and how quickly we pull the trigger on closing school for a day.  Though it is strictly my opinion, and I’m fortunate enough right at the moment to not HAVE to call out from work, eventually I will have to again. To look outside and see nowhere near the ‘Snowpocalypse’ that was predicted, I am of the opinion that this day off for the kids is nothing but a waste.