Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Children Require More Changes Than Diapers

Father’s Day is over for this year so you can rightfully accuse me of not being very timely with the content of this column.  (Honestly, you can rightfully accuse me of a lot of things in regards to the content of all of my columns:  lack of timeliness, lack of relevance, lack of seriousness, lack of long form analysis of the works of Marcel Proust, lack of data approved by institutions of higher learning and an acute lack of nutritional value.)  Even though I am a tad late I am going to write about fatherhood. 

I am currently well into my fiftieth year of life so I have seen fatherhood as a spectator for nearly that long.  I wasn’t very attentive to anything other than food, sleep and hugs for the first several months and for the next couple years Bugs Bunny and Batman overshadowed my observations on the art and practice of being a parent. 

I have also participated in the experiment as a father for twenty years.  Kid Number One showed up in 1993 and since then two more moved into the house.  So I have some experience to draw upon as I come to my various conclusions. 

There are frequent times I wish I could be more like my father.  A man who exuded integrity.  A man who had earned the respect of so many people.  A man who was not expected to go to all of his children’s music programs and ballgames and art shows because he was the dad and he was allowed to sit in his chair, watch the news, read the latest Louis L’Amour western and only be involved in the raising of children in a manner of his own choosing due to the fact that Dads of the 70’s were still using the Dads of the 50’s as their role models.  The current paradigm of being “engaged” and “present” in the lives of one’s children is exhausting. 

When the kids were very small I was amazed about many things involved with being a father.  It was stunning just how much love I could feel for what was at first nothing much more than a blob of protoplasm but a blob which could smile.  It was unbelievable how easy I found it to put selfish things down the priority chain and focus on the needs of a helpless human.  It was downright astounding the things I was not only willing to touch but unthinkingly grab hold of and put in my pocket (by “things” I mean the materials exuded from the various orifices the child had not yet learned to control on his or her own).

Ever since I moved out of the toddler stage myself I have been a rather sedentary person.  I like stillness and quiet.  Then a set of toddlers appeared in my house and still and quiet were not their preferred modes of being.  I found ways to meet them halfway.  For instance when we went to the swimming pool they would want to play games in which we each pretended to be some sort of sea dwelling creature.  One would be a clownfish, one would be a dolphin and one would be a sea horse and I would proudly announce I was a barnacle and gleefully attach myself to the side of the pool. 

Don’t get me wrong I enjoy my children very much.  Especially now that they are such complete human beings capable of driving themselves places.   I truly like them.  I’m talking not just the paternal love that is considered to be a requirement of the deal, but a genuine “I would hang out with these people even if they didn’t share a large amount of my DNA” kind of like. 

I often talk about how important it is to me to laugh.  My kids make me laugh often and with gusto.  Kid #1 is in college, engaged to be married to a fine young man and a fully capable contributor to society but she still likes to dance across the living room in a silly manner and try to engage me in a fight with her inner mongoose.  Kid #2 is heading off to college in August and has a stronger work ethic than the guys who got Apollo 11 to the moon but she spends time finding the cute and her wicked wit keeps the house lively.  Kid #3 is often ignored due to his basic hermit tendencies but he is multitalented and contributes such statements as “The Martian Manhunter is a boss.  He is the Swiss Army knife of super heroes.” 

Christopher Pyle continues to take on the role of barnacle on a regular basis.  He can be contacted at  

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Be Careful What You Chase, You Might Catch It

A long time ago, in my life, not in the grand scheme of things – I’m talking 1988, not anything which would require carbon dating processes, (believe it or not that was the first version of the Star Wars prologue) I was fascinated with the television series of interviews Bill Moyers did with Joseph Campbell entitled “The Power of Myth”.  It described so many things I found interesting in such an accessible way I actually internalized many of them.  The basic story components Mr. Campbell described found their way into things I have written.  There was a phrase he espoused which I kind of glossed over at the time but now that I have children who are just about to push through the threshold into the adventure of their lives it has taken on a greater level of importance.  That phrase was “Follow your bliss”. 

I do not think a learned man like Mr. Campbell (Wikipedia actually lists his occupation as “Scholar”.  How cool is that?) would be telling people to follow a truly hedonistic lifestyle including such things as unlimited supplies of doughnuts and two naps a day (obviously my ideas of reckless self-indulgence isn’t on par with grown up child actors and there will be no “reality” show about my life).  My interpretation of the phrase is people should pursue a life which allows them to do the things they truly like.  A friend of mine stated a similar sentiment when she said kids should look into careers they truly like doing if for no other reason than they will be doing it a lot, the sheer volume of time needs to enter into the thought process.  Think about it.  Most people spend more than 40 hours a week at work and it would make for a much happier life if those hours were spent doing things you at least kind of liked doing. 

So, I took that bit of sage advice and then started thinking how does one decide just which bliss to follow.  (Doughnuts or naps, probably can’t figure out a way to do both.)

Another learned person, Susan Cain, the author of the book Quiet, gave advice about a way to figure out what one should pursue in life.  She suggests looking at what we envy in others and see if that is a direction we should go.  Now, I know what some of you are saying.  Envy is not supposed to be a positive state of mind.  It is actually in the Top Seven No-no’s list as compiled by some religious scholars.  But, it makes sense.  If you wish you could be like someone than maybe you should actually try to be like someone.  (I wish to add a caveat.  If you envy Justin Bieber, anyone named Kardashian or the person whose job it was to talk Will Smith into doing After Earth – stop, stop right now.) 

If I think back to my early days and who I envied and then extrapolate from that what I should have pursued as a career I come to a very different skill set than the one I use in my real job.  I loved comedians. 

I have a very distinct memory of seeing Red Skelton do his famous Guzzlers Gin sketch on The Merv Griffin Show.  Of course, hundreds of thousands of people probably saw that show and enjoyed Mr. Skelton’s hilarious skill but I bet there weren’t many kids who went into the backyard when the show was over and used the garden hose as their water supply to practice doing the “spit takes” he had just done.  I did…until I was called in for dinner. 

Now, as an educator I do have to get the attention of an audience and keep it but true comic skills aren’t always the best choice.  One day I was teaching some simple addition skills to a classroom of 1st graders and decided to use some Charlie Callas (give yourself 250 bonus points if you remember him) style sound effects as part of my presentation.  Let’s just say we weren’t able to remain focused on place value concepts after that choice. 

I have to admit there are times I very much wish I had followed my envy to my bliss and into a different career.  Just last week I went down a YouTube rabbit hole and watched Bill Irwin do his unique performance skills with envy, but wearing baggy pants and a top hat to school would make discipline an uphill battle.

Christopher Pyle has recently been dedicating 30 minutes a day to practicing his ukulele and juggling, knowing full well they are not school administrator skills.  He can be reached at