Wednesday, March 21, 2007


Big thunderstorms today, which means my son A.J. spent half the day walking around the house with his hands over his ears. I can’t blame him. Weather makes me anxious, too.

The other half of the day he spent whaling on a new inflatable Sponge Bob punching bag. He punched it. He kicked it. He sat on it and pummeled it. He laughed the whole time and kept asking me to come watch him.

Then the thunder would return and his hands would go back over his ears.

Fear and anxiety punctuated by episodes of explosive aggression. He is an American male.

What really bothered him was having to leave the house with my wife for a 20-minute drive to the next town over.

“I don’t think we should go in the car,” he said, as thunder rattled our windows.

“Why not?”

“Because metal conducts electricity.”

“We’ll be fine,” my wife said. “The rubber wheels will take care of that.”

That seemed to satisfy him. He flipped his hood up and ran out into the downpour to get into to the car.

Friday, March 16, 2007

House Anxiety

This morning, while we looked through the paper and had breakfast, my wife and I talked about what we’ve talked about most mornings for the last few weeks. Our downspouts.

Actually, I was the only one talking about our downspouts. My wife, bless her, just listened patiently and only rolled her eyes once or twice.

I’ve developed a little bit of an obsession with our downspouts over the past few weeks. It was a brutal February where we live—long stretches of below-zero cold, some big snowstorms, and in general, there was a feeling of being under siege. Winter always makes me a little crazy, but this year my anxieties rose to a whole new level. My downspout obsession is a good example. One of our downspouts froze solid for a stretch of about seven feet and stayed that way for a few really cold weeks. The seams of the downspout were splitting and water seeping out and freezing again and big icicles running down the house. I had never seen such a thing happen before, and I was pretty sure it was a bad thing. In fact, as long as I had that big block of ice attached to the back of my house, I really couldn’t bring myself to believe that my world was a safe one. Something had to be done. I ended up detaching the downspout from the gutter and using a board to direct the meltwater away from the house. It worked pretty well, but as my wife can tell you, I still went out back to check on the arrangement approximately hourly.

Like I said, I was developing a little bit of an obsession.

You have to understand that home repairs seldom seem like simply home repairs to me. They often seem more like a kind of threat to my family.

We moved into this house, our first house, not long after my son was born, so that the new house and the new family seemed all part of the same momentous and life-altering event. Like most novice parents and homeowners, I was overwrought and self-absorbed and got way too wrapped up in my domestic world. Our house started to seem like the very substance, the manifestation of the life our family was trying to build together. This was going to be the place where we watched our boy take his first steps. This was going to be where we romped in the yard and dozed on the porch. This was going to be the perfect place to launch our new lives.

Put that kind of ridiculous burden on a house and of course it’s going to start faltering. And when things start needing fixing, that registers for me as some kind of test. And so what for most people might be ordinary house trouble--the kind of thing you take care of in a few spare hours, or call someone to take care of for you--ends up being a source of anxiety for me, having to do with my ability to protect my family.

When the thaw finally came, about 18 inches of snow started running off our roof and down the gutters. The downspouts were thawing, too, but they were dumping this flood of water in places that didn’t want any more water. And so I started messing around with the downspouts again, rigging up some extensions and redirecting things to move the water away from the house.

If your eyes are glazing over as I tell this downspout story, you can probably appreciate what my wife has been through over the last few weeks, watching me act out my downspout obsession and then having to listen to me explain why my latest solution was a brilliant piece of engineering.

The good news is that the downspouts are working perfectly now and the ground is firming up and everything seems to be getting back to normal. The family is safe.

Except last night, the furnace sounded kind of funny.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

The Overinvolved Father

The Christian Science Monitor has this news of my struggle with Overinvolved Dad Syndrome.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Men Without Women

My wife spent the last four days in Pittsburgh at a conference, which left A.J. and me on our own. We’ve been through these father-son weekends before, and I always think it’s going to be a perfect binge of takeout pizza, trips to the arcade and repeat viewings of SpongeBob. But something always comes up that somehow sinks the plan. I think the first time A.J. and I were on our own, he spent the entire weekend on the couch with a fever. I can still recall how badly that weekend shook my confidence as a parent. I became convinced that I was going to give the child the wrong cold medicine or something.

This last weekend went much better. We skated, we went to Dunkin’ Donuts, we had lunch at the diner, we went to the hardware store. We went to the fun fair at A.J.’s school, where his prowess at carnival games won him a whoopee cushion. He then spent the remainder of the weekend blowing up and sitting on the thing, then laughing hysterically.

On Saturday, he played in his first all-star basketball game, which, as a special occasion, featured pre-game introductions of the starting lineups. (A.J. was introduced as “a 6-7 forward from Loyola University.”) I’m pretty sure he appreciated the honor and enjoyed the spectacle of the whole thing, but all he kept talking about was the free popcorn after the game.

That night he asked me if I missed Mommy as much as he did. I told him I missed her a ton. He thought about it and said, “I miss her two tons. And I don’t miss you at all, because you’re right here.”

Right there was a very good place to be.