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!
A dedicated father to his two little ones, Joel Lane has a love of music and a talent for transforming things through painting. He shares what he loves about fatherhood, his favorite moments as a father and what he does to live a more balanced life.
Share a little bit about yourself.
I am 31 years old and live in the Sacramento, California area. I have two children. A 3 year old boy, named Noah and a 6 year old daughter, named Tatum. I am a single dad who is fortunate to have the kids quite a bit of the time.
I own a painting business called, Parkview Painters. I paint interior and exterior cabinets, furniture and also pianos.
Pianos are kind of an interesting thing for me because I used to be a music director at a church in Southern California. I am a musician and music has been my life for a lot of years. Being a single dad, I have not been able to play music much but I always have pianos in my house or at my workshop. Right now I have a total of six pianos in my house and workshop and I get to play around on them a little bit.
I started playing the piano when I was 5 years old and performing when I was 7. I recorded my first album at 13 and I have been in and out of quite a few bands. You can listen to some of my music and download some of my albums for free on my website www. JoelLane.com. I play soft rock music and while I was at the church I did two alternative style Christian albums.
In addition, I do a lot of running and I enjoy it. I did a half marathon last year and I am training for a triathlon happening in June at my hometown. Most of it is bike riding, which I am actually afraid of. I don’t like bikes, because three different times in my life, while riding my bike, the front tire just fell off, the rim and everything. I ate it and got all messed up. Now, I have this fear of riding bikes and I am hesitant to do the triathlon. But I figured it’s time to get over my fear of that and just go for it.
Tell us more about your business, Parkview Painters.
We do interior/exterior painting for residential homes. On my website there is a short video that shows me painting a condo in a minute and a half. It’s a fun, time lapsed video.
I had another business for about 3 years called, The Painted Past where we just painted furniture and pianos. I recently got divorced and I passed that business on to my ex-wife so that she could have income coming in. Now, Parkview Painters is my new business. I have two partners coming on that are also really good painters. I am going to be doing most of the marketing and setting bids, while I have my kids so I can work from home. The days I do not have the kids, I will be out painting as well.
Painting has been kind of something I’ve done since I was young. I’d pick up furniture at thrift stores or classified ads, paint it and resell it. I just like to paint furniture or houses and I enjoy the transformation from old to new.
What do you enjoy about being a father?
Being a father is something I enjoy but something I am scared of at the same time. I enjoy being a role model for my kids and instilling in my children good values and morals. At the same time, I get scared because I just hope I am doing it right. Many times I question myself. As they grow older I adjust and I have to read up on how to protect them, how to communicate with them better and let them know that they are loved.
Mainly, what I love is just the fact that I get to spend time with my kids, even if it is just sitting there having a picnic with them. Whatever it is, we create a lot of good times together.
When I was growing up, my dad worked a lot, all the time. So I make it a point to be available for my kids, at any moment of the day. I want to be around. I enjoy knowing that they know I am available for them and they can talk to me about anything.
At the beginning of this year, I realized that I am growing through them. In fact, a book called, Upside Down Mommy by Amanda Johnson helped me with that. As a parent, that book reminded me that these little human beings, my kids, are transforming everyday and we, as parents, are transforming with them. We are a part of that process. As a result, I have been making it a point to remember that concept and allow myself to transform and not be stuck in the ‘this is the way it’s gotta be’ mindset.
What top advice would you share with a first time father?
I would say to just allow them to be themselves and allow them to tell you what they need. A lot of times I get caught up in, “Okay, this is what we are doing; this is how you should do it; this is what you need to wear; smile like this; talk like that.” Sure, all those things are good, but I think there needs to be a balance. As parents, we need to listen more. I think we need to allow them to use their voice to express themselves and to just be themselves. That’s gone a long way with me recently. Now, I feel my kids can actually be comfortable using their voice and know that they are heard.
What are your favorite moments with your kids as a father?
My favorite moments would be snuggling in bed. For the last few months, they’ve been wanting to sleep in my bed. As a result, I don’t get any room at all with all three of us. I just really enjoy waking up next to them and seeing those smiles on their faces. The other times are when I don’t have anything else going on and I can give them my undivided attention. Anytime we can just get away from the house, get away from stress, we all seem to have the best times.
What do you do to live a more balanced life?
That’s been a pretty tough one for me lately because I am so used to having a partner to just balance things with. It’s been a learning process. At this time in my life, the main thing is that I’ve learned to just keep my eye on exactly what I need and stay focused on that, whether it’s finances, exercise or if it’s a break from the kids. I am constantly staying aware of that, throughout the day. So that way I can tell when I am getting to that point where I cannot handle it. With the kids, I take them for a walk, which is a big thing for us. We go out for many walks and go to the park a lot.
Also, having my goals written out for the week and just knowing that it will happen. I don’t have to stress about it. I remind myself that everything will fall into place and things will get done.
In addition, I think pre-planning is important. For example, today, I have a paint job and the kids will be with me while I am painting. I’ve got everything lined up. Lunch is all pre-made and I’ve got extra clothes for them. All that preplanning makes it easier to be on time to things and to get out of the house in an orderly way. Not too stressed.
The biggest thing for me is just taking breaks, even when I don’t have it planned out. If I plan to get something done this week, but the kids are on edge and everyone is just elevated, I know I need to just be aware of that for myself and know that it’s time to go to the park and go for a walk.
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.