by Hogan Hilling, Dad Guru
Christmas is upon us once again. One of the holiday traditions is to show gratitude to the people we cherish and love by showering them with gifts. One of those people is your husband and father of your child(ren), who I will refer to as Dad.
Several weeks before the eventful day of December 25th millions of moms will endure traffic jams on the street and shopping malls. Moms will struggle to find that one special gift to place under the Christmas tree that will light up a Dad’s face.
The choice of classic gifts for a dad vary from a coffee mug, personalized DAD t-shirt, tech device, brief case, shaving kit, gloves, pen, golf accessory, videos, alcohol, tools, sports memorabilia, gun, rifle……and all things masculine. The challenge is not only to decide which gift to purchase but also affordability.
But alas I have a suggestion for a special, unique gift dad will appreciate and every mom can afford. It is a gift that does not require you to spend any time battling street traffic and foot traffic at the mall because you can’t find it in a store. It’s a gift that doesn’t cost anything except a pen, sheet of paper and an envelope. And it is also priceless. It’s a gift that comes from the heart.
But before I tell you what the gift is I’d like to challenge you to view Christmas in a different way this year. I will begin with a story a dad shared with me.
Al is a very involved and hands on dad. One day he finally convinced his wife, Jessica, to take time off from her motherly duties and spend some alone time or with friends on a Saturday morning. Jessica left the house at 8 am and planned to return sometime after lunch.
When Jessica returned home at 1pm she arrived to find Al, and their two daughters, Madison (6) and Jackie (4), in the family room still wearing their pajamas. Al was combing Madison’s hair and Jackie was playing with her new doll and tea set. All three had smiles on their faces, laughing and enjoying each other’s company.
Jessica was not happy. “Why are you and the girls still wearing pajamas? The house is a mess! Look at that kitchen! What have you three been doing all day? I’m gone for 5 hours and the place is a disaster.
Thanks a lot honey! Now I have to spend the rest of the day cleaning up!”
Here is what Al shared with me. “Hogan, I couldn’t understand why my wife got upset. Yes, I understand the house was not as clean as she would have wanted when she came home. But I didn’t do it on purpose. I was having so much fun with the girls I forgot about the time, dressing the girls and cleaning the house. Why couldn’t she have focused on the smiles on our face, and how happy the girls and I were? Why couldn’t she have invited herself to join us and spend time as a family together? What is more important a clean house or a happy family? I would have been happy to clean up the mess with her later. I work hard during the week and there isn’t much time for me to spend with our children. It would have been nice to have my wife thank me for giving her time off from being a mom and my effort to spend time with our children. I’m really confused and frustrated.”
THE SPECIAL GIFT I SUGGEST YOU PLACE UNDER THE CHRISTMAS TREE OR IN THE STOCKING IS THE FOLLOWING LETTER:
My Dearest Husband,
Here is my special Christmas gift to you. From this day forward I will embrace your role as a dad by following these simple “12 Days of Christmas” rules.
1. I will accept the fact that you parent differently than a mom. And that you’re priorities are also different than mine. How a dad parent’s is not wrong, just different.
2. I will focus on “what” you do and not “how” you do it. I will appreciate and respect the unique and valuable role you play as a dad to our child(ren).
3. I will not criticize or make embarrassing remarks about the way you parent in front of other people, especially the children.
4. I will accept that your number one priority while spending time with a child is different than mine. I understand that your number one priority is to have fun and build a relationship with our child…not color coordinating our child(ren) or keeping the house clean.
5. I will relinquish my role as a parent to you when necessary, find time for myself and not feel guilty. I realize that no mom or dad can be a parent 24/7 and that it is okay to take a break from the child(ren).
6. I will not allow other people to refer to you as “Mr. Mom” or the “babysitter” when you are caring for our child(ren). You are our child(ren’s) dad.
7. I will defend your role as a dad and not allow anyone, even my mother to disrespect your role as a dad.
8. I will not ask you to show your feminine side because you don’t have one. I understand that a man can be sensitive, nurturing and compassionate in a masculine way.
9. I will not listen to or associate myself with other moms who criticize or talk badly about their husband’s role as a dad.
10. I will respect your role as a dad, which means I will trust your instincts and skills as a dad and allow you to be a dad to our child(ren).
11. I will place our relationship as husband and wife before my relationship with the children. Our love for each other is the foundation of this family. I need to nurture it as often as possible and keep the romance alive in our marriage.
12. I will no longer take your role as a loving husband and involved dad for granted. I will love, honor and respect you everyday.
The letter is not only a special gift for your husband but also a great gift for the child(ren). And it is a gift that keeps on giving!
Father of his 1-year-old son, Chad Stamm shares his joys and challenges as a first time dad, how he incorporates his business life at home and what he does to balance it all.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I’m a father of a 1-year-old boy and have been living in Boulder, Colorado for about six or seven years now. Prior to that, I had been living in New York for a while and loved it. It’s a very different place to live. But when my wife’s sister and mom moved to Colorado, we saw the opportunity and decided to make the move knowing that starting a family was imminent.
The lifestyle here is great and it’s a great place to raise kids. There’s a little bit of a lack of diversity in Boulder, but we hope to mitigate that by taking our kid out to travel and expose him to things. That’s a big reason why we’re here.
Also, when I was younger, my dad took me backpacking out West in the summers. Since he was a teacher, he had the summers off and we’d pile into the camper and literally drove around the West to hike and backpack in places like the Grand Canyon, Bryce and Rocky Mountain. I really fell in love
with Rocky Mountain National Park, which is about 35 miles from Boulder.
My wife and I have been married for 7 years now. We met at the University of Florida where we are proud and happy alums. We actually went back to our college town to get married and get our pictures taken across the campus, including the 50-yard line of the football field.
A couple of months after we got married, we quit our jobs in New York and traveled to Europe for six months which was how long the money we saved up lasted.
Now that you’ve been a father for a little over a year, what has changed or happened that you didn’t expect?
When were pregnant with my son, so many of our family and friends already had kids. So, everybody told us what to expect and they all had an opinion on things. But, the one thing that nobody told me about, which was the biggest surprise, was how much comedy is involved with a kid. I’m laughing constantly. There is a constant source of entertainment and I feel like I could probably write a sitcom.
What is the most recent thing your son has done that surprised you?
Apparently, he has a thing for brunettes. We were on an airplane flying back to see my family and we were sitting next a young brunette girl. My son is kind of going through the phase now where he doesn’t like
to go to anybody else but mommy and daddy. So, we were shocked to see that all my boy wanted to do was sit on her lap and crawl all over her. He just wanted to hang out with her and didn’t want to be away from her.
Then on the return flight we had a very similar experience with another younger brunette girl who was sitting across the aisle from us. My son wouldn’t stop playing peek-a-boo with her the entire flight. It was sort of weird.
What do you enjoy most about being a father?
At this point, I think just seeing the light bulb go off in his head. Understanding that he has made a connection with something whether it’s vocabulary, an emotional thing or just a sense of enjoyment. To see that light bulb go off makes all the work worth it. That’s the rewarding part, such as the first time we put him in the swing and seeing how big his eyes got. Taking him into the pool the first time and just watching him realize that he was in a much bigger bathtub than he was used to.
My wife and I really value travel and we spent a ton of our savings doing that, as opposed to other things like buying houses. I can’t wait until he gets to the point where he understands where he’s at and where he’s going. Now it’s more of the audio-visual sensory type of thing, but once he starts connecting places, I can’t wait to travel with him.
As far as the travel stuff goes, I’m an active member of Rotary International and I actually chair the Rotary Youth Exchange Committee for our club, as well as serving on the District Committee as Country Contact for Austria,Germany and Switzerland. I’m heavily involved with the Exchange Program. One thing that we want to do is expose our son to other cultures and places. He’s going to have exchange brothers and sisters from around the world, which is going to be a big part of what we do with him.
What is your biggest challenge as a father at this point?
Interestingly enough, it is balance. Especially going through this for the first time, I didn’t really understand the workload involved. Even though we have a very easy baby, he’s still a lot
of work. In addition, add the work of starting a business, I have to balance all that. The one part, which gets put on the back burner a lot, is time between my wife and I to make sure that we’re doing things that we need to do for each other.
Another challenging part is to take some time out for myself. This is something I have to encourage my wife to do more, because she’s hesitant to do that as a mother. I believe she has to take time for herself and go out, whether it’s to go running, go meet coworkers at happy hour or whatever it might be.
I’m a creative person so I know how much I value that time and I have to haveitorIgocrazy. Asahobby,Ioil paint and write fiction. That’s my time.
It’s tough for me because my office is twenty steps from my bedroom, and I have to make sure that I put that barrier up so when I walk outside my office door, it’s family time. I have to make sure what stays in the office, literally stays in the office and it doesn’t invade my private life.
That’s certainly something that I struggle to balance with especially because he’s still young and is at home during the day. Over the next year or so, we’ll start putting him into day care. Since
the very beginning, I take Tuesdays off and spend time with my son, which I call, “Tuesdays with Sharkey.” My nickname for my baby is Sharkey just because he eats everything.
Now that he’s getting older we’re starting to do more things. This past Tuesday we went for barbecue together, which is one of my favorite things in the world. My son loves art and paintings. So, we go to the Denver Art Museum and the Van Gogh Exhibit, which was pretty special for me. We took him out of the stroller and walked into this amazing exhibit of Van Gogh paintings that we had here in Denver. We walked through the doors and I started to choke up a little bit. It was kind of cool just carrying him around, and watching him stretch his arms out and make grunting noises when he sees something that he likes. Next weekend we’re going to the Rothko Exhibit, a mid-20th century painter famous for big blocks of color and juxtapositioning reds and oranges. I think it will be a good way to teach him color.
Share with us what your business is all about?
The business name is Sitters4Charities.org and we provide parents with access to babysitters, nannies and au pairs. In the process, we make a donation to one of four charities, which the parent selects when they sign up.
Between my business partner and myself, both of our wives have always encouraged us to follow our dreams. We didn’t just want to build a company, but do something that makes a difference at the same time. We want to provide a great service and a worthy product, but also give something back to the community in the process.
Especially as a new parent, you realize quickly that many times your social schedule revolves around your child care provider’s schedule. If you’re babysitter isn’t available, then you’re not going out that night. That’s just the reality of it.
When we were creating Sitters4Charities.org, I was four months into fatherhood and started to realize the value of high quality childcare.
What does living a balanced life mean to you?
As a father, I think there are different aspects. It’s about all the requirements that come with fatherhood, being a husband and being a career-minded entrepreneur while making sure I take time for myself as well. I do my best to spend equal time on all of them. Obviously, at some point, work may take over or if you have a sick baby, the childcare takes over. It’s basically about making sure that the time spent and the emotion put into those things are equal.
What are the things that you like to do that help you maintain a sense of balance in life?
Particularly in the summertime, my wife and I just like to put the baby in a stroller and take walks around town. We are about a ten minute walk up and over the hills to downtown Boulder, CO. We enjoy the walking lifestyle. It allows us to spend time as a family. As husband and wife, we can have discussions and be present, and the baby is with us.
Also, I always like to be on the move. Travel is important for us. Taking a walk around the neighborhood isn’t traveling, but it still, in some strange sense, quenches that thirst to move, look around and explore.
by Liana Wong
In May 2007, our son Max was diagnosed with a rare diagnosis of B-cell Lymphoma. We started to raise money immediately for cancer research, specifically directing monies to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center to underwrite a cell therapy lab.
In less than six months, we raised more than $200,000. We quickly learned the reality that pediatric cancer research is under funded and needed our support.
What obstacles did you face when you started the foundation?
We needed to educate ourselves on the cause and have a plan. It is common to want to do a lot in a short period of time.
We were fortunate to have success early on, but needed to maintain focus and not stray from our mission. Ideas are constantly flowing and we need to always do what is best for The Max Cure Foundation and our mission.
What were your initial thoughts when your son was diagnosed with cancer?
It was the worst day of my life. I felt like my soul was ripped from my body and smashed to the ground.
How did you handle communicating the diagnosis with your other children?
At the time, we only had Alexander who was 2 years old. We were honest from day one about Max’s cancer to Alexander and to Max. We called it a “boo boo that was very dangerous”.
I felt blessed that God gave us the opportunity to find the cancer and to get Max immediate treatment. The diagnosis was stage 4 but there was hope for a cure with Max. I was not going to let any negativity into our lives to change our focus and mission at hand.
What top advice would you give to others in a similar situation with their family?
Take it day by day and keep the stress and negativity to a minimum. Part of the healing process is a nurturing home. It is easy to lose control. The last thing you want is a child to feel that the cancer is his/her fault.
What top advice would you give on how to keep the marriage solid throughout it all?
Good question. I am not sure that I have the answer for that one. LOL Our marriage definitely had its challenges. We still have our challenges but when you have a child that is fighting for their life, it is important to be selfless and remain a team no matter how difficult the situation. It is not about you, it is about the child.
I try to be there for my children and participate as much as I can in their lives. I am far from perfect and I am definitely working on the “balance” part. It is not easy running a foundation, which could easily employ twenty or more people if we could afford it. We have so much going on all the time and I find myself wearing many hats, which is tough to do. I am grateful for the small team we do have because they keep me in check and look forward to the future.
Pediatric Cancer Facts:
- 13,500 children in the United States are diagnosed with cancer each year
- 3,300 children die each year in the United States from cancer within five years of diagnosis
- Cancer kills more children than any other disease
- Those children that survive five years have a ten times greater mortality rate
- Research to find cures for pediatric cancers is the most under funded of all cancers and relies heavily on foundations such as The Max Cure Foundation for support.
As a husband and a father with three kids, including a special needs son, Hogan Hilling has been the voice and blazed a pathway for at-home dads. During a period when being an at-home dad was not a socially accepted lifestyle, Hogan was able to break the detrimental stereotypes and bring awareness to the differences between how men and women communicate within the household.
Hogan is an author of two companion books, the first of its kind, that address issues and perspectives from both sides of the equation – the mom and the dad. He shares experiences and tips to help both sides understand and communicate effectively with each other creating more of a team achieving a common goal.
Hogan spoke with us about his upbringing and how it was a turning point to his commitment of being a great father and a voice for other at-home dads.
I was raised by a single working mom. I grew up without a father and my mom never really talked about him. When I was 29 years old, I had the chance to be reunited with him. He talked about the divorce with my mom and why it happened. I had the chance to hear his side of the story. I had no resentment toward him. I was just happy to meet him, because so many kids don’t get to meet their own dad. So, when I met him I decided to have a different attitude. As he was sobbing and apologizing to me, I realized at that point that he actually missed me more than I missed him. It was a huge healing process for me, because I made a pact with myself that I would never feel the way my father felt. I was not married at the time, so I told myself that I would never do this to my kids and I would never do this to myself.
I address this in my books. It’s not about healing the relationship, because you can’t control what the other person is going to do. I had to walk away knowing that I did everything I could to stay connected with my father, not be judgmental and take the relationship for what it’s worth from the time that it started. It was a real revelation for me. From this, I teach dads in similar situations that you must heal yourself in order to move on and be a father for your kids. If you haven’t done that, it will be much more difficult to really take on the responsibility of that role.
Pacifi(Her) – What She’s Thinking When She’s Pregnant is for the dads to help them understand what their wives are going through. The other book is Rattled – What He’s Thinking When Your Pregnant is for the moms to help them understand what men go through during her pregnancy. Very little has been addressed regarding the issues that dads go through, because the focus is always on the mom and the baby and we have overlooked what dad goes through.
I believe I’m the first author to write companion books for both mom and dad that delve into how they both feel during pregnancy. I want to stress the word on “feel.” A lot of what’s going on in the parenting world and has been for generations is that there seems to be a right or wrong attitude, which creates conflict. What I explain in both books for both moms and dads is to really focus on the reason behind what they’re feeling in order to really address the issue because of how we communicate sometimes, especially men. Stupid things come out of our mouths. Sometimes we say what we don’t mean. We have a hard time communicating the feelings, because we’ve been taught not to or haven’t been taught how.
What I tell the dads is that your wife is really emotional right now. Her body is changing physically and emotionally. He needs to not take what she says personally. I share ways he can communicate better to say things in a way where he won’t offend his wife.
I don’t sugar coat the issues I address in the books. I really get down to the nuts and bolts of why both sides feel the way they do based on my own experience with my wife and also because I was a stay–at–home dad. I got a lot of information at the playgroups from the moms. They actually helped me understand my wife a little bit better.
What really motivated me to write the books was when I was doing the dad workshops. People were always telling me that guys wouldn’t show up and they wouldn’t talk. That’s just an example of how our society perceives dads. We live in a culture where we’re constantly preaching to dads. So, what I found out during the workshops is that the guys were sharing intimate details with me that they never shared with their wives. Our culture teaches boys to be submissive with their feelings. So, by the time they become husbands and fathers, they fall into that pattern thinking they’re not supposed to say anything because either mom knows it all or I’m supposed let mom be “super mom”. When I delved deeper into the reasoning behind this, there was a four letter word that always came up – Fear. They were afraid of losing their masculinity, but more importantly, they were afraid to share how they really felt because of the backlash they would get from their wives. They would get criticism, be told to suck it up, hear “how could you feel that way”or “you don’t love me anymore”. So, they shut down.
I teach moms that those are the words they shouldn’t be saying. I ask them when they want to talk to their husbands, don’t they just want a supportive arm around them and hear, “I’m sorry you feel that way. What can I do to help?” Husbands want the same thing.
A lot more men are staying home and are seen at the grocery stores and at the park with their kids while the moms are working or building businesses. So, the roles are flipping and are acc epted more. Don’t you think?
I totally agree. The roles are flipping. Women and men need to be commended here. In the 90’s, there were plenty of at-home-dads. They were just afraid to come out of the pantry and be recognized. The media didn’t know how to handle them and didn’t know how to talk about them.
Then the movie, Mr. Mom came out. And there was always a reference about us as “Mr. Mom” as though we were a replacement for moms. We’re fathers. We’re not replacing moms. At that time, the feminine movement was making this whole thing about wanting to see the man’s feminine side. Well, I got news for you ladies. We don’t have one. We are sensitive in a masculine way. Don’t let us lose our masculinity. I’ve never heard a man say, “I would like my wife to show her masculine side.”
It’s my masculinity that will make me the best dad I can be. Now, men are more courageous about being at the park and saying that they’re not “Mr. Mom” and not “a babysitter.” They are expressing that they really enjoy what they do. A lot of men couldn’t wear that badge of honor of being an at-home and involved dad.
In the early 90’s, I started one of the first Dad’s Club at El Camino Elementary School in California. We had many at-home dads come into the PTA. And all of a sudden, the working dads started noticing that more fathers are getting involved. I always said that at-home dads were going to be a wake-up call to not only fatherhood, but also to parenthood. And that’s exactly what has happened. People are starting to really recognize that men are competent as dads.
Tell us more about The National At-Home Dads Network.
It was founded by Dr. Robert Frank and a few other dads who organized this network voluntarily. We hold annual conferences and have been for the last 16 years. We are the second longest running dad’s event in the country. What’s different about us is that we do not lecture to the dads. Most of what we do is an open discussion forum. We actually let the guys talk. There’s no steadfast curriculum to how we do this, which dispels that whole myth that men need to go through some 10-step rehabilitation-type program to be a good dad. They’re just like moms. Put the guys in a room together and let them talk. They’ll figure it out.
What top advice would you give to a new at-home dad?
Leave your ego behind. Be proud and comfortable with the decision you’ve made. And that’s likewise with working dads. If you want to spend more time with the family, then maybe change professions or find a company that is more family friendly. Many guys feel they don’t have choices.
Develop a thick skin. You can get upset with how people are talking with or about you. Or, as a good friend told me, “If you want to have a fatherfriendly environment, you have to be a friendly father.” You have to change your mindset.
When I first decided to be an at-home dad and I went into the playgrounds and schools, the media was saying that we need to see more dads at the playgrounds and get involved in schools. So, when I showed up, I was rejected. Moms didn’t embrace me and I was mad at the moms. Then I realized these women have been indoctrinated to treat me as a stranger. It’s not their responsibility to make me feel comfortable about being there. It’s my responsibility.
I’m 6-foot-6 and intimidating. I don’t have a natural smile. So, I had to work on smiling more and bringing extra toys. I didn’t talk about sports with moms. I would ask where they got the nice outfit their son was wearing, because I may want to get one for my son. Or I would complement a daughter’s eyes and mention that she got them from her mother. Things that men aren’t comfortable talking about.
Another tip is to be patient with your wife. There are many issues that working moms need to deal with. I tell dads to be sympathetic with their wives and try to understand what she’s going through when she has a large workload and doesn’t seem to be doing anything at home.
Many dads ask me what they can do to help their wives feel more comfortable coming home. I ask them what the first thing their wives see when they come into the house. I tell them to make sure the first place she enters is clean. The rest of the house can be a bit messy. As she comes home, she needs transition time and when she’s happy when she enters the house, she’ll tend to overlook the other stuff.
As a dad, what do you do to maintain balance in your life?
I make sure that I have me-time. And I say the same thing to my wife. She needs her own “me-time”. You can’t balance your life unless you have energy. However, both sides feel that guilt when they want to take “me-time.” That’s just ridiculous. It goes back to that oxygen mask in airplanes. Put your own oxygen mask on first before you apply your kid’s mask.