August 2015: Plus One

Why hello there. If you’re a friend of the network you may be peripherally aware of me. My wife Liz and I are parents now! Our little boy Abram is about a month old at the time I’m writing this and it’s crazy how much he’s grown in just that time.

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 You’re probably wondering how I elbowed my way onto Dennis’ blog. It’s taken months of careful planning and execution. My ruse began months ago, before Abram was even born. Dennis has been instrumental in providing a listening ear, emotional support and advice. So it’s an honor that he has invited me to collaborate with him on The Daddening. This is going to be fun.

When you’re a month removed from your first child, a lot of people ask questions like, “What’s it like being a father?” or “How’s parenthood?” For questions that are thrown out so casually and so often, I still don’t have the distilled, casual summary of the experience of fatherhood that I feel like people are expecting, and I usually end up going with something like “It’s great!” or “It’s an adventure”. The truth is that when I think of my role as a father it’s much more complicated than that. There are a lot more thoughts and emotions wrapped up in what it has meant to me to become a father, and a lot of those I don’t even have words for yet. That’s what I’m here for.

  Despite all the goodwill I have for Lauren Graham, it just didn't grab me…

Despite all the goodwill I have for Lauren Graham, it just didn't grab me…

Even after a whole month, it’s hard to nail down all the feelings that fatherhood brings and put them into words.  It’s changing me in ways I didn’t anticipate.

In terms of my expectations, the entire experience has been much easier than expected. Parents and non-parents alike have been warning me for months about the sleepless nights and not-so-quiet evenings ahead of me. (I’m not sure why people feel compelled to inform parents-to-be that babies are loud and needy and a lot of work when the ticket to parenthood is already bought and paid for. Am I supposed to change my mind or is it for some sort of sadistic hazing all parents must endure?) Ultimately, I don’t think it’s that I overestimated the screaming or that my child is remarkably quiet and sedate, but more that it’s remarkable what you’ll endure once it’s your own kid keeping you up at night. God’s blessed me with a real Zen attitude that I’m hoping will endure throughout parenthood. When we were initially trying to have Abram, Liz told me she was praying that if we had a son he would have a gentle sprit like his father. So far, that has really held true. Abram is pretty sedate most hours and easy to soothe. Obviously babies cry to communicate, but aside from when he needs us to meet a need, he is pretty happy to chill quietly.

Paradoxically, at other times, being a father affects me in other, less admirable ways. When it comes to me dealing with my child, it seems really easy to endure any number of hours of screaming and sleep deprivation, but when dealing with others and my kid, I find myself sometimes filled with an impotent rage that I can only recognize as a primal desire to protect my family unit. When Liz and I were still in the hospital with Abram after she had given birth, they put us on a locked postpartum unit and gave me a badge to swipe in order to get back into the unit if I left. One of the days we were there, I left to get some coffee and breakfast. When I came back, as I walked down the hallway toward the locked door, I was about 200 feet behind this woman. When she got to the door she swiped her badge to no avail. Another swipe, another rejection. I decided to hang back, knowing that my badge was functional, and not knowing who this woman was or what her motives were (almost certainly a relative hoping for some innocent baby snuggling, but that was neither here nor there to me.) As I continued to wait, she didn’t seem to see me. She continued for a solid 5 minutes to swipe, stare at the badge for a few seconds, then swipe again; maybe this time slow, maybe fast, maybe flipping the badge one or another way, maybe trying to swipe casually, as if she hadn’t been doing the same thing for five, now closer to ten minutes.

My frustration continued to grow. This was someone who was not only keeping me from my child, but didn’t respect the sanctity of the door or the safety of any of 30 or so babies that were inside. I didn’t say anything when she called the person she was visiting and said “Yeah I’m right outside 3700, the door won’t open” (she was actually outside 3800, but this person who didn’t respect the sanctity of the door didn’t deserve my help). Soon a cleaning person came by and said “let me help you” to the person who the multi-million dollar security system was consistently denying. The cleaning person then unlocked the door for this unauthorized stranger and let her into the unit where MY baby was currently sleeping under therapeutic light.

This flipped my frustration to rage. WHY EVEN HAVE A DOOR LET ALONE LOCK IT? I found the poor nurse and made what I thought was an important warning, the safety of babies was in my hands after all. I realize now it was incoherent tearful blubbering: “THERE WAS A WOMAN, AND THE DOOR, AND SHE COULDN’T GET IN AND I DIDN’T WANT TO LET HER IN, AND I WAITED BUT SHE DIDN’T GIVE UP AND THE CLEANING PERSON…”  I can only imagine what a fool I looked like and I’m really embarrassed, but I guess it highlights how these have been the most emotionally charged weeks of my life.

The intensity of the emotions I feel completely catches me by surprise. I never quite experienced things as vividly as right now. I can just sit with Abram in my arms and be in the moment, which sounds silly, but I spend a lot of time in my head, and being a Dad is a great catalyst to live more in the real world. In this regard, becoming a parent has been a real challenge for me, but It’s also been extremely rewarding personally and also in my marriage.

In a strange way, the typical euphemisms we tend to use when explaining where babies come from rings extremely true for me. When two people love each other very much, it makes a baby. It’s a cliché that’s so worn at this point that it has flipped from innocent and naïve back around to revolting, but I bring it up because I think there’s a nugget of truth in the lie we tell kids. This isn’t an entirely original thought, Liz is saying it all the time, but I look at Abe and see the product of the love I have for my wife – something that binds us together. I think that’s because we came into it prepared to serve each other and Abe, putting ourselves third. I’ve found this to be a surprisingly refreshing experience. I feel like my marriage to Liz is stronger than ever, and that any stress so far has been a tempering fire, making us even more solid. I’m going to stop typing because this sounds preachy. It’s definitely true that the mother does the heavy lifting for the first month, but being on the same team has really brought us together.

So that begins to encapsulate my first month of parenthood, but by the time you’re reading this, Abram is over two months and so much has changed. I’m not entirely sure what to expect, but it’s going to be crazy and amazing.

July 2015: Year One

The first year of fatherhood hit me like a freight train.

It was an adorable freight train with an infectious laugh and insatiable appetite, but a freight train none-the-less.  It’s blown up and rearranged everything in my life, and that’s not at all a bad thing.  Fatherhood has exceeded my expectations in every imaginable way, and it’s already hard to remember what I did with myself before Luke arrived.  As his first birthday draws to a close, I thought I’d take the chance to capture some of the highlights.

The biggest surprise: Mommy Magic

For me, the biggest surprise of fatherhood came right at the start.  When we got home from the hospital I had pumped myself up to be Super Dad.  Jen was still recovering from a rough c-section, and I was going to do everything in my power to ease her transition back home.  I would walk through a wall for my new family; not just prepared for sleepless nights, but excited for them.

Imagine my surprise, then, when the only way I could help most times was to hand Luke over to Jen.

She had what we dubbed “mommy magic”: a soothing effect on Luke that I just couldn’t replicate.  It didn’t matter if he was hungry or full, tired or awake; he knew the difference between my arms and Jen’s, and he had a preference.  I didn’t want to admit it at first.  I would try to soothe and cuddle Luke well past the point of knowing it was time to hand him off, and I’d feel like some kind of failure when I finally did.  It caused a sense of helplessness and even rejection that completely blindsided me.  To love someone so intensely, to want to give them anything they need, and then to have what they need be simply “not you” is hugely disempowering.  Of course it was nothing personal (at least I don’t think it was), and it wasn’t all the time, but I’ll readily admit to being jealous of mommy magic. It faded as Luke got older, but we still catch glimpses of it, and I imagine we always will.

The biggest milestone: Cruising

It felt like Luke was hitting new milestones every single day during his first year, so it’s hard to pick out which of them had the most impact on us.  Everyone told us that baby going from stationary to mobile was the biggest change, but I’m not sure I agree.  Crawling was a big milestone to be sure, but while it allowed Luke to GET to things, it didn’t necessarily allow him to GET INTO things.  As long as we kept a relatively small number of bases covered (stairs, outlets, cats), Luke could crawl to his heart’s content.  It was the ability to pull himself up to standing that opened up a solar system of new worlds to Luke: flat surfaces other than the floor!  Suddenly an item being in its correct place was no longer a guarantee of its safety.  Remotes, lamps, tablecloths, computers; nothing was safe.  It’s awesome to see the curiosity a baby has towards everyday things, but it’s also terrifying given that they use a two-question heuristic to approach every object they encounter:

  • What does this taste like?
  • What happens when I smash it on the floor?

Luke has become the ruler of end tables and the master of sofa debris.  We’re just trying to keep up.

The biggest fail: Childproofing

Jen and I joke that we somehow missed the first-time parent gene.  This has been good in some ways, but it’s also made us procrastinate in areas we probably shouldn’t.  Like I said above, the basic precautions we took when Luke was crawling aren’t really cutting it anymore.  At least once a week Jen and I will narrowly avert some disaster, look at each other, and say “We have GOT to baby proof this weekend!”  The trouble is that it never happens.  We’ve managed to get a baby gate up in front of our tool room—you know, the one with saws and power drills—but everything else is still wide open.  The joke is really on us, as this means we have to follow Luke closely around the house.  Just a little effort could create a safe, baby proofed area where we could “set and forget” him while knocking out household chores and the like, but instead we’re doing it all with him on our hip our at our feet.  We’ll definitely get around to baby proofing this weekend, though.

The biggest win: Documentation

I like to think we’ve gotten a couple of things right as parents.  We remember to feed Luke most days, and we’ve almost never lost him overnight.  Far and away, though, the thing I’m most proud of is the collection of photos we’ve captured in our first year.  All the credit for this one goes to Jen.  She’s taken a PVC frame with some fabric and turned it into the most impressive baby photo studio I’ve ever seen.  I could go on for pages about the amazing creativity of her shoots, but it’s probably better just to show you.

This is only a small sample of what’s on Facebook, and what’s on Facebook is only a small sample of her total collection.  Each of these photos helps crystalize a year thats often been a crazy blur, and looking through them brings instant happiness.  Plus, I can’t say I’m displeased with the amount we’ve saved on photographer fees.  The only concern now is how to keep the pace if/when baby number two arrives.

Through all these ups and downs, probably the biggest theme running through my first year of fatherhood was this:

I can’t do this alone.

I mean that in two ways.  First and primarily, I mean it in relation to raising a human being.  This goes so far beyond the indispensable support from Jen and our immediate families.  It’s our CrossFit box, who watch Luke while we work out and teach him a spirit of adventure.  It’s the dads from church who model what it looks like to be a great father and coach me to improve with equal parts truth and grace.  It’s the random friends on Twitter who share in the wonder and hilarity of parenthood.  I’ve stepped into something so far beyond my capacity it passes “not even funny” and circles back around to funny again.  Even in my best moments as a dad its clear that I’m only standing because a full crowd of support is holding me up.  There’s something beautiful in that kind of dependency, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

The second way I mean “I can’t do this alone” is in relation to this blog.  I was posting roughly once a month pre-baby, but this post will make my post-baby average roughly once a year.  Now I’m pretty delusional about the number of balls I can keep in the air, but even I have to recognize that getting back to monthly posts would be aggressive.  With that in mind, I reached out to my good friend Geofry Lawton.  He became a father in June, and we’ve talked off and on about the idea of collaborating on something family-related.  Rather than starting a new project (which was a legitimate option discussed—told you I’m delusional), I thought it made more sense to bring him in on The Daddening.  He’ll be writing August’s entry, and then we’ll alternate monthly posts going forward.  I’m super excited to see what Geofry has to say, and you should be too.

More soon.

~Dennis

May: Los Angeles

This post was supposed to be about our awesome babymoon to California,

but then I went and had a stroke.

To be clear, that’s not supposed to happen to people like me.  I’m 26, in good health, and have no family history of strokes; but on May 19th a piece of clotted blood dislodged from my heart and shot up into my brain.  What follows is my attempt to catalogue the whole series of events and examine what I’ve taken away from them.  Settle in folks, this is a long one.

Our babymoon was actually pretty awesome.  Jen and I both wanted one last big trip before baby Luke arrived, and the opportunity came up to see a live taping of The Ellen Show in LA.  Seeing Ellen live was a bucket list item for Jen, so we planned the entire vacation around it.  We spent two weeks exploring California’s cities and national parks (that’s right, at 27 weeks pregnant Jen wanted to go hiking), and ended in LA for our grand finale.  The morning of the show I went out to put something in our car, and that’s the first memory I have of any symptoms.

I started dropping things.  I dropped my keys trying to open the car door, then I dropped my wallet trying to pick up my keys.  On the way back in, I watched my hand simply let go of the water bottle I was carrying.  It didn’t register yet that anything was wrong: I thought I was just being clumsy.  I made a wisecrack about it to Jen when I got back in the lobby, but saw shock on her face instead of amusement.  Jen told me later that my words had come out unintelligibly slurred.  The right side of my face was limp.  I almost fell over walking on my right leg.  The shock on her face was my first inkling that something wasn’t right, but it was readily apparent to everyone else.

Jen immediately knew I was having a stroke.  She had an ambulance called right away and sat me down.  I don’t remember anything between then and when the ambulance showed up, but I vividly remember the ride to UCLA hospital.  The EMTs asked me a series of simple, common-knowledge questions while they worked on me, and that was when I started to grasp that something was seriously wrong.

“What day is it?”

That’s easy, I thought, it’s…

Nothing. Just fuzz where the answer should be.

“What city are you in?”

More fuzz.  I knew they were easy questions.  I knew I should know the answer.

“What’s the president’s name?”

It was just out of reach.  Every piece of information was just out of reach.  The horrible realization hit me that it might not be there at all anymore.

“What’s your favorite color?”

“Green,” I slurred.  I wasn’t sure if that was true or not, but the EMT couldn’t call me on it.

“Okay, good.  Now what day is it?”

I started to get angry.  Was I going to die trying to answer stupid questions?  I heard Jen’s voice and latched onto it.  For some reason I thought she was getting the same quiz as me.  I couldn’t understand what she was saying, but by her tone she wasn’t doing much better than I was.  I wanted to be there for her.  Holy shit, I wanted to be there for my son!  Was I not going to meet him?  If I did live, was my mind going to be a shaken etch-a-sketch?

That’s thankfully not what happened, but I honestly don’t have a good reason why not.  The stroke left a mass of dead tissue in my brain the size of your pinky finger’s top segment.  Worse, it’s in what the doctors called the “high rent district”: the part of my brain that controls speech and movement.  By all accounts, my mind and body should have been devastated.  I should be in speech therapy and re-learning how to walk.  Instead, everything came flooding back.

 This is unfortunately as close as we ever got to The Ellen Show

This is unfortunately as close as we ever got to The Ellen Show

By the time we reached the hospital I was lucid enough to insist that Jen go to The Ellen Show without me, but not lucid enough to realize how stupid that suggestion was.  At least I made her laugh.  By the time we reached a room I could hold a conversation.  That night I was walking around again under my own power.  I think the doctors were as confused as I was.  They checked over and over again for any sign of lost function—“smile, frown, lift your arms, lift your legs, pull my finger, list every animal you can think of, list words that start with B”—but as far as anyone could tell, I’d lost absolutely nothing.  Or, maybe said a better way, I’d gotten back absolutely everything.

That event—having my most basic abilities taken away and then restored—has thrown into sharp focus the things and the people I should care about.  I’ve realized (or maybe remembered) that the simple act of having a conversation, regardless of the topic, is a pleasure.  Am I being present and enjoying it?  Am I using the opportunity to say the things I want to say?  Is the other person getting anything out of it?  If not, then change it!  It’s a weird mix of gratitude and urgency that I’ve started to cultivate in every area of my life: a huge gain of appreciation for the Awesome Little Things, and a huge loss of patience for the Bullshit Little Things.  Are the things I spend time on filling me or draining me?  If there are parts of my life that I’m just phoning in, do they really need to be there?  It’s made me more engaged, more honest, and more willing to take risks.  Having the stroke was one of the worst, most terrifying experiences of my life, but because of it I’ve made positive changes that simply wouldn’t have happened otherwise.

That's normally where I would end the story, but that's not at all where the story ends.

The doctors at UCLA spent the next week running every test they could think of to find the cause of my stroke.  It was while looking for a congenital heart defect that they stumbled onto the blood clot inside my heart.  It was positioned so that anything breaking off from it would shoot straight up into my brain.  This explained the stroke, but now there was no explanation for the clot.  My bloodwork was fine, my heartbeat was regular, no congenital heart defect... I was beginning to feel like an episode of House.  Regardless, the big danger was that the clot was still in there.   Just a small piece of it had caused my first stroke, and there was nothing to guarantee that more (or all) of it wouldn’t break off at any moment and cause another.  Also, since we didn’t know why it was there in the first place, there was no guarantee that more clots wouldn’t form.  I immediately started medication to dissolve it, but the doctors cautioned it could take a while.  There was nothing they could do except send me home to continue testing and hope no more broke off.  I would have to live 3 minutes away from irreparable brain damage for the foreseeable future.

I hid this fact from people.  I’d miraculously recovered from a stroke and gained a whole new outlook on life in the process!!! The looming possibility that I’d die anyway just didn’t fit that story, so I ignored it.  I was more than happy to talk about what happened in LA, but it was always as if the ordeal was over.  If I mentioned the clot at all, it was in vague or joking terms.  I felt like I was letting people down if I told them the truth.  Besides, how do you work “I might stroke out in front of you” into polite conversation?  I told myself I was staying positive, but underneath I was a pile of kindling doused in gasoline.

The match was a phone call about—of all things—my balls:

“Hi, Mr. Furia?  I’m calling to schedule the ultrasound for your scrotum.”

“Schedule the what?”
“Ultrasound?”

“For my what???”

“Your, um, your scrotum?”

“I’m sorry, I had a stroke.  That’s like heart and brain stuff.”

Papers furiously rustled on the other side of the line.  

“So nobody said anything about a… scrotum ultrasound?”

“No.  I think you might have the wrong guy.”

The lady flustered around a little more (I don’t think she was expecting to have to say the word “scrotum” so many times) before telling me she’d have to call me back.  I got a call back, but this time it was from the doctor herself.  She explained that the first call had indeed been for me.  In fact, they wanted to get scans of every part of my body.

They needed to check for cancer.

Cancer somewhere else in my body could have caused the clot in my heart.  It was a low probability, which is why no one had mentioned it before, but it was the one hypothesis that they hadn’t disproved yet.

I managed to keep up my happy face for a few more hours, trying to plan a meetup with my family as if nothing was wrong.  Jen, who was still processing things herself, wanted to stay in.

“Dammit, Jen!” I burst out, “I don’t know how many more times I get to see them!”

It’s the first time I’d acknowledged the situation for what it was, and it broke me.  I cried uncontrollably as Jen held me in our kitchen.  All the fear, anger, and worry that I’d been ignoring for weeks caught up to me with interest.  I felt like I was underwater the days between then and the ultrasound.  Everything felt murky and slow; oppressive and out of focus all at once.

The day before the tests, a friend invited me to a “night of healing” at our church.  Now I’ve always been churchy, but I’ve never been that churchy.  I knew I was in a bad place, though, and Jen encouraged me to go.

The entire event felt like it was designed specifically for me.  First, the worship leader opened with Psalm 51:10—“Create in me a pure heart, oh God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.”—and talked about how people in the room might literally need a pure heart that night.  Next, another stroke survivor shared his story.  The short version was that he’d had four massive strokes in one day, leaving him unable to even swallow.  A group of friends began praying for him during recovery, and over the course of 48 hours every disability they prayed for disappeared.  Finally, a group of volunteers offered to pray for anyone who wanted healing.  I picked the closest volunteer to me and unloaded my story—my whole story—onto him.  Go figure, it turned out he was one of the friends that prayed for the stroke survivor who spoke.  He had also seen his brother miraculously come back from stage 4 brain cancer after being prayed for.

“It doesn’t matter what’s going on in there,” he told me, pointing to my heart, “I’ve seen God handle it.”

He prayed, I bawled.

Afterwards, I sat in the atrium and shared my whole story with the friend who had invited me, including how I’d been coping (or failing to cope) with the unresolved parts.  He was a cancer survivor himself, and listened with empathy and understanding.  I felt so much less alone opening up to someone who had been there, and afterwards it was hard to understand how I’d ever believed the lie that sharing my fears and uncertainties would let people down.  I don’t know if any physical healing happened that night, but I definitely experienced emotional healing.

The next day’s ultrasound found no signs of cancer.  A few days after that, an MRI showed the clot in my heart to be completely dissolved, with no sign of new ones.  The doctors still haven’t found the cause of the original clot, but I can acknowledge that now with peace instead of dread.  My guess is that they never will—that I really am healed of whatever it was—but I don’t need that to be true in order to make the most of whatever portion of life I have left.  I’m continuing to cultivate that lifestyle of gratitude and urgency in everything I do, and I have Los Angeles to thank for that.

April: Open Letter

Dear Associates in Women’s Health,

I’m writing to sincerely thank you for getting out of obstetrics.  The last few weeks have showcased your gross incompetence for my wife and I, and it’s comforting to know that you won’t be putting any other couples through the hell we experienced.

I’ll be honest, we were actually disappointed when you told us you weren’t accepting new obstetric patients.  You’re the only OB/GYN that Jen has ever had, and we’d told you we were trying to get pregnant, so it was confusing why you didn’t plan to accommodate us or at least give us a heads up before the last minute so we could find someone else.  That should have been a huge red flag for us, but like any bad relationship we clung to what was familiar and actually fought to have you accept us as your final patient.

Then came the gestational diabetes test.  Jen is in fantastic shape, and has no family history of diabetes, so it was a huge surprise when the initial screening came back positive.  The problem is that you seemed as caught off guard as we were.  I know now (no thanks to you) that 1 in every 10 women has gestational diabetes, so this SHOULD have been familiar territory for you.  Instead, you acted like it was the first case you’d ever seen.  You weren’t able to give a clear description of what GD was or how it might affect us, and while you knew there should a followup test, you couldn’t remember anything about what it entailed.  We stupidly didn’t push you on it at the time, assuming it must be extremely low probability if the doctor didn’t know about it, and that the followup test would likely show the initial screening to be a false positive.

Either way, we were fast approaching a California vacation that we’d been planning for months, and wanted to put the issue to bed before we left.  Jen quickly took the followup test, and we emphasized multiple times to multiple people that we needed the results and any necessary guidance before our vacation started.  What we got was radio silence.  In fact, WE had to call YOU one day before our vacation, and it turned out that you’d gotten the results back the same day Jen took the test!  MAYBE this is understandable if the results came back negative, but they didn’t.  They were positive.  Jen really did have gestational diabetes.

Jen then had the audacity, nay, the GALL, to ask what exactly GD was.  Your response? “There’s a class you take that explains all that.” Jen reminded you for the umpteenth time that we were going to be out of town on vacation, and asked again for some high-level guidance as a stopgap before we got back to take the class.  You remembered our thousand previous conversations, apologized for forgetting, and gave us several helpful tips.

Oh wait, that’s not what happened at all.

Instead, you tried to prove that Jen was lying about vacation (again, something we’d had multiple conversations about) to get out of taking the class!  When Jen insisted it was a real conflict, you grumpily informed her that you would call her back.  This is where disbelief started to overwhelm any other emotions we might've been feeling.  What kind of Ocean’s 11 style long con did you think we were working that we would invent a vacation before even taking the first GD test just in case we needed to get out of the class???  When you finally called back with a nurse AND and a doctor on the line, things got even more surreal.  This is the conversation as Jen relayed it to me:

Associates in Women’s Health: “So gestational diabetes means that you can’t have any carbs.”

Jen: “Ok, can you give me more specifics?”

AIWH: “um…” *whispered conferring between nurse and doctor*

Jen: “I’m guessing no pancake breakfasts.”

AIWH: “Right, no pancakes… no ice cream… basically, if it tastes good don’t eat it, or your child might be stillborn.”

Jen: “Wait, WHAT???  You’ve got to give me more information than that!”

AIWH: “Well, you really need to take the class.”

THAT’S YOUR ADVICE???  DON’T EAT ANYTHING THAT TASTES GOOD OR YOUR KID MIGHT DIE???  Do you realize how unhelpful and terrorizing that is to a pregnant couple? The entirety of this ordeal was ridiculously negligent is so many ways!

  • If this is something that could kill our kid, why the HELL did you sit on the results for so long?
  • Even if this was the first case of GD you’d ever seen, how could you not find time between the first and second test to at least brush up on it?
  • In what reality is it okay to threaten someone with stillbirth over the phone, ESPECIALLY when you’re unprepared to give useful guidance on how to prevent it?

Jen was beyond distraught.  She told me what had happened and we immediately started calling to find a new OB.  The secretary at our new place was mortified when she heard what you had told us, and quickly corrected several of the things you’d gotten wrong.  That’s right, THE SECRETARY at our new OB knew more about gestational diabetes than you did!  She told us that GD doesn’t require a no-carb diet, it just means spacing out your carbs and sugars throughout the day.  She told us that Jen would have to be drinking multiple 2-liters of pop a day and completely ignoring any preventative measures before GD became a risk to baby’s health.  She told us that most women with GD actually have a bowl of ice cream before bed to regulate blood sugar overnight.  Literally EVERYTHING you’d told us about GD was wrong in some way.

Our new OBs have been fantastic.  They’re informative without being alarmist.  They listen to our questions and give thoughtful answers.  Their heads are not up their asses.  Through them we’ve kept GD  in check, and we’re confident that both mom and baby are in the best health possible.  So thank you, Associates in Women’s Health, for getting out of obstetrics.  I’m confident that pregnant couples will find better care literally anywhere else.

I only wish you had done it sooner.

March: Luke Robert

[Note: The first several posts will be back-dated]

This month we discovered our baby’s gender and announced both that and his name to the world!

Luke Robert Furia

Gender Reveal

Jen loves photography, so we always knew we wanted to do some kind of photoshoot for finding out Alpaca Llama’s gender.  There’s a million food-colored cakes out there, so we came up with a unique and (we thought) simple idea.  Turns out it’s easy to visualize, but very, very hard to explain.

Start with two balloons, one blue and one pink, then have the ultrasound tech poke holes in the balloon that is NOT the baby’s gender.  That way when you blow up the balloons simultaneously, only the one that IS the baby’s gender inflates.  Easy, right?  Even then we knew it was unconventional, so we tried to make it as simple as possible by pre-poking two sets of balloons and labeling one “boy” and one “girl”.  Now all the tech had to was pick the right label.  Easy… right?

And yet, when we described our plans to the ultrasound tech, she looked at us like we were explaining quantum physics.

“So I’m poking holes in the balloons?”

“No, we did that already.”

“So I’m inflating the balloons?”

“No, we’ll do that later.”

“So how do I know which ones are poked?”

“You don’t need to.  You just pick boy or girl.”

“But they both have boy and girl.”

“No, they both have pink and blue.  One is labeled boy and one is labeled girl.”

“Oh I see, but which ones have holes in them?”

After a few more times around the mulberry bush, we were reasonably confident we’d gotten through.  That confidence began to wane as we waited in the lobby for the tech to put the right balloons in an envelope.  How long should it take to pick boy or girl?  Is five minutes too long?  Ten?  Finally, the tech emerged from the back room, proudly handed us the envelope, and ensured us that there was only one color inside.

I know shaking a baby is off-limits, but what about shaking an ultrasound tech?

By some miracle we managed to get things cleared up, and the photoshoot itself went perfectly.  We sent out the pictures to family and friends, and they even showed up on the Pampers Facebook page.

Name Reveal

Luke’s name was actually the result of a bet.  Five years ago, before Jen and I were even engaged, we found ourselves discussing the merits of different baby names.  I don’t know if this is normal for a dating couple, it just kinda happened.  We were pretty sure about each other, and we both wanted kids at some point, so it just came up naturally.  Anyway, I liked the name Luke, but was skeptical of the girl names she liked.  After much debate, we agreed that if our first kid was a boy, then I would get full control of the name, and if it was a girl, Jen would have full control.  There was much trash talking in the years between then and now, and I’m not gonna say I didn’t gloat just a little when we found out it’s a boy.  Thankfully Jen likes the name Luke as well, though I like to think she would have honored the bet even if she hadn’t.  I know I had no plans to welch on the deal!

Jen and I revealed Luke’s name right around the same time we revealed his gender.  I know some people are big on keeping names a secret, but it was never much of a concern for us.  Part of it was a desire to “claim” the name.  We have a TON of friends having kids right now, and with that comes a deep paranoia that someone will “steal” our name.  Telling everyone so early was our way of calling dibs.

I’ve always loved the name Luke, without a real clear reason why.  It’s my favorite of the four gospels, so I guess that counts for something.  It also just has a ring to it that is both strong and kind.  My younger sisters will insist it’s because I’m a Star Wars fan.  If that’s an influence at all it’s pretty low on the list, but they LOVE the idea of having a Jedi for a nephew, so I’ll let it stand (although they should maybe double check what happened to Luke’s aunt before getting too excited).  Probably the biggest reason is that the name Luke is classic without being common.  Everyone knows the name Luke, but not everyone knows a person named Luke.  Robert is a much simpler explanation.  Both our dads are named Robert (as well as my brother and a couple uncles), so it was a no-brainer to carry that on.  I fully intend to insist to each Robert in our family that they are the true namesake of our son.  Maybe we can get like a highlander situation going, I don’t know.

More soon.

~Dennis

February: Go Loud

[Note: The first several posts will be back-dated, as they were written before we were telling people we were pregnant]

February 5th was my birthday, and I had the distinct pleasure of using that occasion to officially tell all our friends that we were pregnant.  This involved standing up in a P.F. Changs and (as my wife describes it) shouting it so loud that the horse statues in front bolted.

What can I say, I get excited.

We were at 13 weeks (the end of the first Trimester and the time when it’s generally considered “safe” to tell people) but it felt like we’d been keeping it a secret for 13 years.  The dinner was actually the culmination of a series of reveals we had made over the preceding weeks, and the whole process of telling people is way more convoluted than I would have ever imagined, so I thought I’d catalogue it here.

Round 1

The first people we told were the last people I would have guessed: our CrossFit trainers.  We told them first for two reasons.  Number 1 is obvious: CrossFit is a super-strenuous activity, and we wanted to know what was safe for Jen to do.  The workouts actually helped Jen’s morning sickness, so she was relieved to hear that pretty much everything was safe to continue provided that she kept a moderate pace.  This was really hard for me to accept at first.  My first instinct is to be hyper-protective (“Let me move that table for you!”; “I’ll carry those groceries in!”; “Should you really be exerting yourself with all that chewing?”), so it felt weird to encourage her to keep doing power cleans.  Seeing how much better it made her feel, though, and seeing her take very seriously the few restrictions she did have, eventually put my mind at ease.  The second reason we told our trainers first was that we needed their help covering it up.  Our box is a tight knit community, and we didn’t wan’t people noticing Jen’s “moderate” pace before we were ready to explain it.  Our trainers were fantastic about this.  They came up with a custom weightlifting routine, teamed up with Jen on partner WODs, and generally eased up on her.  The only downside was that any leniency they gave to her seemed to be taken from me.  I got used to hearing “You’re doing so well Jen; GET BACK ON THE BAR DENNIS!!!”

Round 2

Jen’s car broke down right as morning sickness really started to kick in, which meant I was driving her into work, and then frequently leaving my office and driving her home halfway through the day if/when she didn’t feel well.  After a certain point, my frequent disappearances in the afternoon only had a few rational explanations:

  • I was interviewing for other jobs
  • I was having an affair
  • My wife was pregnant and having morning sickness, but her car broke down so I needed to take her home halfway through the day if she wasn’t feeling well enough to be at work

Given that Occam’s Razor was painting me to be a real bastard, I was anxious to clue in my boss.  He was thrilled for us and offered whatever support/flexibility I needed, but I walked out of the meeting feeling completely different than expected.  It was the first time I had told someone we were pregnant on my own, and the act filled me with an immediate fear that I had jinxed something.  It sounds silly writing it now, but I honestly spent the next day worrying that by telling someone so early in our pregnancy I had ushered in a series of cosmic events that would somehow cause harm to the baby.  It felt like saying “good luck” on opening night.  Over time that worry subsided, but it’s alerted me to how easily fear can enter a situation like this.

I have virtually no control over the pregnancy, and I'm not even experiencing it first-hand the way Jen is.  It's a deeply uncomfortable position to be in, and I think my subconcious is constantly flailing for some foothold of control.  This would manifest itself as excessive worry and fear if I let it--I'd be asking Jen to stop CrossFit and plumbing the depths of Web MD at every little hiccup--but the lesson I'm slowly learning is this: fear only breeds more fear.  It's not a new concept by any means, but I think having SO little control over the past several weeks has driven it from "head knowledge" to truly believing it.  There will be equally as many things that I can't control once Alpaca is born, so I'm slowly learning to trust God, trust Jen, and release that sense of fear.

Round 3

After those two necessary reveals came our immediate family.  We devised a cute little story for telling our parents.  We told them that we'd gotten them a present from our Peru trip, but had forgotten to give it them over Christmas.  We then had them open up the present, which contained a baby onesie inside.  This worked great for my parents, but we’d overlooked one little fact with Jen’s parents: we HAD actually bought them a present in Peru (a little angel trinket), and HAD actually forgotten to give it to them for Christmas.  We’d told them about it on Christmas day, promised to bring it over next time, and then completely forgot about it; so when we launched into our spiel, the following conversation ensued:

“Soooooo, we actually have one more present from Peru we forgot to give you…”

“Oh right, just toss it in my purse.”

“…umm… you don’t want to open it now?”

“Well, we’re in the middle of cards.  Just toss it in my purse so we don’t forget it.”

“…but…”

“Does anyone else want coffee?  I’m gonna make some coffee.”

“…p-present?”

“Did you hear Emma is gonna be in two plays?”

“OPEN THE DAMN PRESENT!!!”

“What!?  It’s just the angel, right?”

“The ange— OOOOOOH.  No, haha, sorry.  Different present.”

Rounds 4+

After our immediate family came close friends (you can actually listen to me surprise the Level crew live on air), and then it was on to my birthday dinner.  Afterwards we posted a sweet announcement photo and I've been telling anyone who would listen ever since.  It's actually getting to the point where I can't remember who knows and who doesn't, which creates lots of awkward moments.  I'll either think someone doesn't know and be informed this is the 4th time I've told them, or I'll assume someone knows only to have them lose their minds when I make some tangental reference to having a baby.  Either way, I’ve been overwhelmed with how excited and supportive everyone has been for us.  It was fun to have a secret, but sharing it has been even better still.

More soon.

~Dennis

January: Superbowl Hyundai

[Note: The first several posts will be back-dated, as they were written before we were telling people we were pregnant]

This year’s Super Bowl was a special kind of bad.

It was the kind of bad that’s almost embarrassing to watch; like being in the room while a co-worker gets chewed out or listening to the couple at the table next to you break up.  I watched a little past halftime, and then went home to catch Downton Abbey (because even the Granthams could have beaten Denver that night).  Before I left, though, this commercial came on:

I was floored.  Even watching it again for the 30th time, I still get chills and the urge to dude-mist.  The amazing thing is that this commercial isn’t relying on “big” moments.  This isn’t dad coming home from the army or walking his daughter down the aisle, so why is it so powerful to me?

One easy answer is that it’s so genuine.  There’s nothing tongue-in-cheek here.  The story is simple and sweet: Dad Saves the Day.  That’s not to say the commercial is humorless, but you only need to contrast it with last year’s dad-theemed Super Bowl ad to see the difference in tone.

To be clear: I’m not saying the Doritos ad is bad (I actually think it’s pretty clever), it’s just a good indicator of how fatherhood is evolving in our culture.  The Sit-com Era wasn’t really sure what to do with dads outside of comic relief, so it’s refreshing to see such a genuine take.

The other reason has to do with this idea of saving the day.  I think most guys come hard wired with the urge to protect others.  There’s something deep inside us that wants to stand in the gap; to fight for those who can’t fight for themselves.  But in today’s culture it’s not often venerated outside of the fantastic.  Your average male hero fantasy usually involves mutant superpowers or quantities of ammunition that would put Jesse Venture to shame.

I like the Hyundai commercial because it snaps us back to why that urge is there in the first place.  Most dads will never stop a bank robbery or blow up the Death Star, but every dad can be there for their kid.  The little moments from the commercial; THOSE are why that urge to protect exists, and THOSE are ultimately more fulfilling than any hero fantasy.

It’s cool to see us as a culture starting to get that (hey, you know something is a real trend when marketers start pandering to it), and I’m willing to bet you’ll see more  and more “small” dad moments in media.  Keep an eye out!

More soon.

~Dennis

December: Drinking Games

[Note: The first several posts will be back-dated, as they were written before we were telling people we were pregnant]

We found out we were pregnant right before Christmas, which threw into sharp relief the fact that

everyone’s an alcoholic during the holidays.

Holiday Alcoholic.png

The majority of both our extended families live in town, meaning from Thanksgiving to New Year’s we’re doing something with family or friends almost every night.   Our families being good Catholics, there’s ALWAYS beer around.  And our friends being, well, our friends, there weren’t a lot of nights that didn’t involve a drink or two.  This means Jen and I had to become masters of stealth and deception.  It was way too early to tell people we’re pregnant, but Jen couldn’t exactly throw them back like she used to.  We developed a deep playbook for subtly avoiding alcohol, and I thought I’d share a few of our tactics here.

The Playbook

She’s not feeling well tonight.  This is your basic strategy; your 1.e4.  For extra flair, blame it on going out too hard the night before.  It also fits perfectly if she’s dealing with morning sickness.  The downside is that it only works so many times in a row before people start getting suspicious.

We’re doing a cleanse.  Juice cleanses and the like are really popular right now.  Tell everyone that you’re having nothing but organic artisanal de-ionized cauliflower juice over the weekend.  It works great if people are just out for drinks, but at a holiday party there’s usually too much good food to make this desirable.  Besides, nobody wants to be Juice Cleanse Guy.

Fill an empty with water.  This is a high-risk, high-reward option.  If you can get the bottle full without anyone seeing it, then you’re golden.  If someone catches you, though, you might as well be holding a pregnancy test.

Fake mixed drinks.  Simple but effective if people are having mixed drinks.  Bring the ingredients for a vodka cranberry, but, you know... just make a cranberry.  

Swap bottles.  Drink half your beer, swap.  Drink half her beer, swap.  Finish your beer, swap.  Finish her beer, repeat.  Using me as a wet-vac for alcohol was our go-to.  It doesn’t really work if everyone’s around a table, but it’s great if you want to get hammered.

Of course 90% of this is unjustified paranoia, but it’s fun to run the whole cloak and dagger scene.  As much as I’m excited to tell people, I’m also enjoying having a secret.  Any way I can make this feel fun and adventurous, I will.

More soon.

~Dennis

November: Character Creation

[Note: The first several posts will be back-dated, as they were written before we were telling people we were pregnant]

If you're here then you probably already know this, but I'll start with it anyway:

I'm gonna be a dad!!!

Baby Announcement.jpg

Whoo, that feels good to write down.  It feels a little more real just having it on the page in front of me.  Jen (my wife) is 9 weeks in, and Alpaca Llama Furia (the baby's itinerant name until we find out the gender) is the size of a grape.  I don't think I'll ever look at grapes the same way again; or gummy bears (week 8), or blueberries (week 7), or lentils (week 6), or… well now I'm hungry, but you get the point.  You see, everything takes on a stupid amount of gravitas when you find out you’re pregnant.  Suddenly your mind relates every object you encounter back to this one thing, leading to a constant stream of "profound" realizations:

  • Eating lunch with Jen: "Woah, Alpaca is like, eating whatever you eat."
  • Starting the car: "Woah, we need a vehicle that will fit, you know, baby stuff."
  • Breathing: "Woah, I wonder if Alpaca has lungs yet."

You feel like a stoner deconstructing the universe.  The world is your Rorschach test and all blots point to baby.

Probably born of this faux gravitas is my desire to start a blog.  I have two main objectives.  First and obviously, I want to capture all these thoughts and experiences.  They may or may not make for good reading, but the exhibitionist in me will be much better about blogging than journaling.  Future Me is the true target audience for this blog, but if a couple other people can enjoy it too, all the better!

The second reason is a little less fully formed at present.  It's a trend that's been on my mind a lot lately, and it has to do with the title of this blog.

The Daddening

The Daddening.jpg

"The Daddening" is ripped off wholesale from "The Daddening of Video Games", a 2010 article by Stephen Totilo.  It's really good, and worth a quick read before continuing here.  Assuming you're just bulldozing along with this post (lazy), I'll summarize: In the article Stephen points out that “being a dad is becoming nearly as popular in video games as health bars and shotguns".  He attributes this to a) the changing life stages of gamers and game developers, and b) the motivating power of a paternal relationship.  Certainly the intervening years have continued to prove him right--they've given us Red Dead Redemption, Dead Rising 2, The Walking Dead, The Last of Us, and many more--but I think there's more going on here.

I think that our culture as a whole is undergoing a reinvention a of Fatherhood.  Or rather, I think it's completing a reinvention of fatherhood that started a long time ago, but stalled out somewhere along the way.  Or rather, I think it's reinventing the vacuum left by the last reinvention which never really fully reinvented itself.

See, I told you it wasn't fully formed yet.  Let's try this another way…

Homer_Simpson_2006.png

In the 50s and early 60s the role of dad was to be, essentially, the benevolent dictator of the family unit.  He made all the money, made all the decisions, and made an example of anyone who dared lip back.  Over time our culture rejected that idea as overly-simple and extremely toxic, but just because you've REJECTED something doesn't mean you've REPLACED it.  This created a vacuum that ushered in what I'll call the Sit-Com Era for dads.  It's not a new idea to point out the abundance of bumbling father figures on TV, but I don't think it's a result of The Media's Attack on the Traditional Family Unit (sorry Fox News).  I think it reflects a genuine loss of identity for fatherhood in our culture.  We moved away from something bad, but not towards something better, and in the absence of a clear definition for fatherhood, it's role in society sank to some blend of "over-grown kid" and "less-competent mom".

And that's as far as fatherhood has evolved in the past 50 years.  At least, until recently.

The Rookie Force

The Pacifier 2.jpg

I think there's a new generation of dads emerging (heralded by Stephen's article) that will reclaim and reinvent fatherhood for our entire culture.  I see dads taking more ownership of their role then ever before, and I see more guys who aren't dads expressing positive aspirations rather than disillusionment.  At first I thought it was paternal blue car syndrome, a function of my own life stage and aspirations, but it turns out I'm not the only one seeing this.  The Curve Report (one of the most comprehensive studies on emerging trends in our culture) calls out this revolution in fatherhood as one of the key trends of 2014.  It titles this group The Rookie Force: men who are proud and excited to be fathers, but who don't have a blueprint for what that role means.

That's exciting to me, and following the evolution of that movement is my secondary motivation for starting this blog.  If we as a culture have decided to reclaim fatherhood, to reimagine it and own it, what does that look like?  What are the biggest changes to what that word means in pop culture?  What valuable aspects do we hope to retain?

No idea.  I'm a rookie too, you know.

So I'll be musing about the changing nature of fatherhood and sharing more baby stories than even I'll care to go back and read, and hopefully it will be a good journal for me and an entertaining blog for you.

More soon.

~Dennis