Re: Vista Revisited

Fun fact: It wasn’t until my second stint as an eHarmony member that I managed to line up my first actual eHarmony date. (It’s a long story.)

So when I did finally make a promising connection, spelled out in 10 days of densely packed email volleys covering all manner of conversational ground, it was with no small degree of trepidation that I made arrangements for our initial meet-up. Online dating is not for the faint of socially anxious heart.

The date was not scheduled to take place under shadowy cover of night, but under the shimmering blue sky of a weekday afternoon. The location of the date, which I would choose again in a heartbeat, was not a restaurant or a bar or a movie theater, but a trailhead.

That’s just how it’s done in Colorado.


The Boulder County trailhead in question is an access point to a sprawling web of footpaths near the base of the Flatirons, five hulking sandstone slabs that stand as sentries at the eastern border of the Rocky Mountains. The game plan was to meet my date at Flatirons Vista Trailhead, drive together in my car to Doudy Draw Trailhead, and then hike the 5 miles back to her car.

This was my first-ever ‘blind’ date, so I felt well out of my element. Verbose email exchanges are right in my wheelhouse — heck, they are my wheelhouse. But conveying my truest and best (and least nervous) self to a girl I like, face to face, has always represented a much greater challenge.

Getting ready for my date, I was so nervous that I stared at myself in the mirror just long enough to convince myself my hair looked dumb, thus prompting me to suppress the evidence with a baseball cap despite a long-and-strongly-held personal belief that my bulbous pate looks misshapen in headwear. (I’m pretty sure the words “stupid, stupid, STUPID” crossed my lips upon looking at myself in the rearview on the drive over.)

The conversations that transpire during a first date feel too personal to recount blow-by-blow in a blog post, a belief that is conveniently bolstered by the fact that my faulty memory doesn’t actually recount most of the conversations that transpired between me and my date that day.

But I will tell you that my very first icebreaker as we began ascending the Doudy Draw path was a doozy. Before I even asked my date a question about her day, her dog, her family, or her life, I started unceremoniously babbling about how the engine of my Toyota Corolla had inexplicably caught fire and melted down on the way to the airport a few years earlier.

Young fellows, take note. This, clearly, is how to woo a woman.

In the end, questionable conversation starters notwithstanding, my date and I spent two affable hours on one beautiful afternoon during which zero red flags emerged for either of us… never a foregone conclusion on a first date!


It was a lively and successful convergence all the way around, although I didn’t have the nerve to extend the meet-up to a Boulder coffee shop (or protest march). I have a seemingly infinite ability to second-guess my impression of someone’s impression of me. But with the benefit of hindsight, it was clear that we enjoyed each other’s company. Why else would she have agreed to a second date (another hike near the Flatirons) and later a third, fourth, and fifth?

How rude; I haven’t introduced you to my date that day. Her name was Dani. Short for Danielle. I came to learn that she was many things. An only child. Born in Washington. Raised in Colorado. Enjoyer of sports. Adorer of dogs. Lover of children. Possessed of a seemingly photographic memory. Cute as a button. Smart as a whip. Tender as a puppy. Tough as nails. True-blue as the sky on that cloudless May afternoon.

And as it turned out: my unmistakable soulmate.

Fast forward 8 years, almost to the day, from May 2009 to May 2017. Danielle and I, both now a little rougher around the physical edges (but more buoyant around the emotional ones), made plans to revisit Flatirons Vista Trail. This time around, we drove together to the trailhead — gotta be environmentally friendly in Boulder County! — and listened to love songs that we could sing along to in our sleep after years of practice. We parked at the very same trailhead where we first laid eyes on each other ages ago, back when our ages still started with a 2.


The other noteworthy difference this time was that we carpooled with a jovial extra passenger by the name of Greyson Francis. He had his papa’s blue eyes and goofy sense of humor, and his mama’s button nose and tenacious strength of will.

And there’s no two ways about it: That boy would simply not exist if that nervous guy had not met up with that beautiful girl at that dusty trailhead on that blue-sky afternoon on that fateful day in 2009.

In the end, Flatirons Vista was the starting point of a journey leading us to the ultimate vista: the unobstructed panorama contained in our little Greyson’s big eyes.


Sweet/Care/Align, Part 1

The older I get, the more I realize that failing marriages — whether they culminate in divorce paperwork or just demoralized partners — outnumber successful ones. And the more I realize this, the more determined I am to help increase the odds of Greyson’s future relationship success.

I grew up on a steady diet of earnest family sitcoms, back when those were still a thing. Every week I watched the domestic interactions of the Huxtables and the Keatons and the Petries and the Cleavers, along with a bizarre number of Taylors. Each of these warm-hearted, well-matched spouses (and a few widowers) helped formulate my adolescent sense of what marriage and parenting should look like. My template for a successful marital bond, based only on TV characters, could both then and now be summed up as:

Steven & Elyse Keaton (added bonus: I like their political vibe)
+  Coach Eric & Tami Taylor (they fight more lovingly than anyone)
+  Clair Huxtable (so warm and wise… Cliff, I have nothing to say to you)
+  a dash of Jill Taylor (she was always more my speed than Tim)
x  a heap of Andy Taylor (why are there so many great Taylors?)
=  the perfect spouse and/or the perfect parent

But beyond what I saw amusingly projected (and artificially perfected) on the TV screen, I was familiar from a young age, as was Danielle, with what a solid real-life marriage looks like. Our respective parents have now been rock-steady for over 40 years, and 3 sets of our grandparents remained together — and in love — for 58, 63, and 67 years, respectively. That’s almost two centuries combined! Danielle and I are deeply fortunate to have each had a front-row seat to watch durable marriages that were buoyed by the alignment of shared values, parental and otherwise.

I’ve been thinking a lot about these shared values lately. A handful of marriages that I’ve witnessed at close range over the past decade have painfully languished and ultimately perished. In one or two cases, this brokenness was the result of a large act of betrayal. In a few other cases, it stemmed from numerous small acts of selfishness. But I would contend that in most of the decayed marriages I’ve seen, what doomed the relationship was a lack of carefully aligned values.

And I’m not talking primarily about core principles, like integrity and curiosity and empathy, although overlapping on those is absolutely vital at a baseline level. Instead, I’ve found that it’s often the everyday, pragmatic, rubber-meets-road values that, when they diverge in a marriage, slowly but surely create an unmanageable sticking point.

The two most common examples of these values are (1) how finances should be saved and spent, and (2) how children should be raised and taught. I’ve seen it time and again. Without significant common ground between partners in the areas of money management and parenting, it’s only a matter of time before the nest egg hits the pavement, or the dirty diaper hits the fan.

So let’s detour back to my favorite subject: Greyson. While he remains at this moment a compact 10-month-old ball of goofiness and giggles, gloriously unaware of the coordinates of his future adult life, I remain ever a vigilant planner-aheader. And I figure it’s never too early to start laying the groundwork (or at this early stage let’s call it the groundwork for the groundwork) for his eventual success in romantic relationships.

Even now, everything that Greyson sees pass between his mama and me, and between his aunts and uncles, and between his grandmas and grandpas, and between other sets of romantic partners he observes as he grows older, will help build his internal narrative about relationships and marriage.

And what I am deeply proud to show him in the marriage he watches unfold within the four walls of our home is this — an ever-imperfect but ever-enduring bond powered by dynamic shared values and a mutual game plan.

After all, romantic love may be (and quite likely is) the best thing in the world. But an edifice built around romantic love without a strong framework of aligning values is bound to eventually collapse.

It may be a few decades down the road, but I want Greyson’s eventual edifice to be solid, carefully planned, warmed by love, and built to withstand a hurricane.

(After all, we may need to move in someday!)


Thus concludes Part 1. As with “The Grand Tour,” I have simply run out of weekend. The forthcoming Part 2 will go into more detail on how we’ve been able so far to execute our shared game plan despite a few missteps; where I’ve seen others go wrong, sometimes to a devastating degree; and what advice I will offer Greyson 20 years from now (or closer to 30 if he’s like us!) when he’s drawing up his own marital game plan.

Thanks as always for reading, and reflecting, and engaging. I’d love to know your thoughts below, and I will reply to every comment… if only because I can’t help myself.

Seize the (Tues)day

As a working papa, I get exactly as much quality time with my son (no more, no less) as I can manage to wrestle away from the punishing weekday schedule. Never in my life has a diem been more worthy of carpe-ing than it is now that Greyson is a part of each and every one of them. And today was a perfect example of a day well seized.

From my perch in the bathroom this morning, while checking Facebook, I could hear my little man wake up and commence his morning gurglings at 6:35. I knew I had to jump in the shower no later than 7:45. That gave me 70 good minutes. Greyson greeted me with a mile-wide smile as I entered the bedroom and pried him from the tender grip of his relentlessly lovestruck mama. And then my little man and I got down to business.

I sing-songily changed his diaper, dressed him in shorts and a T-shirt, gave him some fitness time in the jumper while I checked my Twitter feed, picked him up once he grew tired of his Tigger-ing, collaborated with him on stacking some plastic toy cups, plopped him down next to me on the couch and read him a few books (my favorites are the ones about a papa bear and baby bear), put my shoes on and took him outside into the cool morning air, carried him in the crook of my arm as we walked around a nearby wooded trail (in what I like to call Greyson’s Glade), ventured down to the playground, pushed his blissed-out self in a baby swing for a while (he’s already a pro at this), carried him to the top of the jungle gym and slid down the slides with him in my lap (soaking my butt with morning dew in the process), and then sang him a few songs while we hiked back home to get ready for work. To describe this as 70 minutes well spent is a happy understatement.

After my work day I arrived home at 5:45, mowed half the lawn since Greyson was napping, and finally got to see his sweat-matted but beaming face when he woke up at 6:30 (note to self: I’d better bring up the A/C unit from the basement tonight). With bedtime looming at 8:00, I knew time was of the essence. Tonight’s pre-dinner activity of choice? A family run. But as Danielle had already worked (out) her tail off earlier, this time she opted to give us some papa/son bonding time. So I strapped Greyson into his state-of-the-art BOB jogging stroller (thanks, Art & Gayle) and headed out for a run in the once-again-cool evening air.

This was my first experience running with Greyson but without Danielle. I quite savored the challenge. I liked trying to maintain communication with my tiny barefoot passenger even though he couldn’t see me. (Even through his little sunroof, he would have to look straight up while I crane my neck to look down through.) But we have found that Greyson is perfectly content, a majority of the time, to just sit back and observe the sights and sounds and smells of the countryside. He is a consummate observer of the natural world.

He does like to hear our voices, though. So since I was running without my usual conversation cohort (Danielle and I talk and joke frequently while we run), I made sure to be as verbal with my little man as my still-a-bit-out-of-shape lungs would allow. I called out affectionate nuggets of reassurance — “We’re almost halfway home!” “You’re doing great, buddy!” “Look at the sheepies!” — and Greyson cooed and babbled in response. There is no sound as sweet as the sound of a baby talking. Words are overrated, as it turns out.

It bears mentioning that pushing 50 pounds of weight (between Greyson and his helpful vehicular friend BOB) makes running decidedly more arduous, particularly in the uphill direction. Danielle and I may not be gym members anymore, but we are no strangers to these Greyson-assisted resistance workouts. My, um, running joke is that if you like running but want to increase the difficulty level, all you have to do is follow this 3-step process: procreate, then wait 6 months, then put your baby in a jogging stroller. No sweat! (On second thought: YES SWEAT.)

I also savored the challenge of keeping the sun out of Greyson’s eyes. Even with the ample canopy provided by the stroller, the low-lying evening sun kept finding a way to sneak in. So at times I stood directly in front of or to the side of the stroller, pulling it along behind me, acting in a moon-like capacity to create a a kind of “paternal eclipse” effect. And I’m not going to lie — it makes a guy feel mildly heroic to shield his defenseless baby boy from the scorching ravages of the unforgiving sun.

It occurs to me that I could pretty easily spin my papa/son jogging stroller bonding experience into a microcosm of parenting. Something about gently pushing our children out in front of us in order to show them the world — not being able to maintain direct eye contact, but using our steering ability to guide them safely toward beauty and our anchoring voices to reassure them that they are loved and supported. I could easily do that. I’m a sucker for a nice, grandiose allegory.

But really, it was just a fun and well-seized day with Greyson. And that’s more than enough for me. T minus 6 hours until I get the chance to do it all over again.


The Grand Tour, Part 1

To begin, three caveats are in order:

1.)  I’m still a newbie parent. My son is 10 months old. I’ve experienced roughly 1.03% of the situations I will ultimately experience as a dad. I get that.

2.)  Trying to express comprehensive philosophies of parenting at this stage is inherently pretentious. “You haven’t yet experienced [insert parenting difficulty here]” is a valid and perfectly understandable rebuttal to premature parental pomposity. My vantage point is limited. Humility is essential. I get that.

3.)  Building a prologue out of caveats is a crutch of the neurotic writer and runs the risk of turning off casual readers immediately. I get that.

Okay. Just like those guys that pull a huge tarp over the baseball field when there’s a rain delay, I think I’ve now… <clears throat> …covered all of my bases. Onto the subject at hand!

There are exactly as many parenting approaches out there as there are parents.

We who are dads and moms each view the prism of childhood from a different angle. This is partly a result of how our own parents constructed our own childhood, and partly a result of the core values we’ve subsequently come to hold as preeminent. So the approach we take in raising our kids is molded both by experiences beyond our control — our childhood, which was imparted to (or inflicted upon) us — as well as carefully selected true-north values that are well within our control. This varies for every parent, everywhere.

My own childhood world, as best as I can remember it, was a wonderland of books, friends, basketball, school, church, biking and general outdoor exploration, giddily anticipated family outings and epic-sized road trips, and above all: unwavering parental love that safely hemmed me in on all sides. (There was also a boy doll named Freddy who kept me company in the absence of a family dog. And an odd amount of Mad Libs.)

The unsavory memories I do have from my first decade on earth, such as being verbally bullied during my 2 years in public school, are exceptions to the rule and have not scarred me noticeably. There are other, more complex layers to my adolescent development, to be sure, but for my purposes here I want only to convey the extent to which my parents bequeathed upon me a largely blissful childhood.

Such a childhood, I grant you, does not qualify me to expound at great length about what it is like to be an average American adolescent growing up in the ’80s. I was one of the fortunate few, born to (salt of the earth!) parents who built their lives around me and my (largely non-violent!) older brothers. It was, by all accounts, a charmed early life.

What I am qualified to do, though, as we all are, is assess what kind of childhood I want to give my son in light of my own formative years. My attempt to do so is based on some empirical evidence, derived from lessons learned during my early months as a dad, but mostly just my gut instincts about what matters most in life. I am grateful that my wife and I are a united front in this crucial area.

So below I will outline a rough sketch (which for now is largely metaphorical) of how I view my new, long-anticipated role as a parent.

I see myself and my wife as curators of a vast museum.

How vast? Picture the largest museum you can imagine, then multiply that exponentially — the Louvre plus the Smithsonian, times the Metropolitan Museum of Art. A truly colossal edifice! The kind of place you could get happily lost in for days on end.

Our child is given exclusive access to this cavernous museum, although we offer him a generous supply of guest passes so that he can invite his friends for field trips or overnight visits. Indeed, if we prove to be skilled in the art of museum curation our child may well be eager to share the experience with his friends.

Conversely, our child will from time to time be invited to his friends’ museums, which we will gladly allow and encourage once we have met our fellow curators and ensured that they roughly share our basic curatorial values. (Knowing, as we do, that certain museum exhibits can at times be harsh and demoralizing, we will monitor our child’s wanderings closely at this tender age.) But our child’s primary influence will be the museum that we, the deeply invested curators, lovingly craft for him over time.

As you might imagine, a museum this gargantuan in size takes the better part of a decade for our child to explore. There are hundreds of floors and sub-floors, secret trapdoors and passageways, hidden attics and a subterranean basement; perhaps even a mysterious portal here and there. The imagination can run wild in a place like this! Although there are millions of other museums nearby and all around the world, our child has no shortage of explorable territory in his very own, highly customized museum. And explore he will, to his heart’s content. (To be sure, our child’s 10-month-old self is already exploring his museum’s introductory exhibits every waking moment of the day.)

As our child grows older and approaches the second decade of his life, he will maintain full access to the museum we have laid out for him. Indeed, we will continue to unveil new exhibits and update the old ones in order to fully engage his deepening awareness of the world around him.

But we will also begin to grant him more freedom to independently wander into nearby museums, of both known and unknown origin. What he sees at these other museums will both expand and at times obscure his perspective. He will learn of things his mom and I could never have taught him, given our inherently limited curatorial scope. The experience he gains interacting with these new exhibits will prove invaluable, although some of them will burden him and sully his innocence.

This is to be monitored but not gravely feared. After all, our child’s decade of experience in the museum we built for him, if we have done our job with thoughtfulness and love, has laid the groundwork for all of his subsequent exploration. He has been given a compass pointing to true north — all the beauty, love, meaning, and joy we have curated for him — and that will be his reference point until he grows old enough to build his own independent worldview.

So every day you wake up, envision what you want your child’s museum to look like. Build it out of your love and your imagination. And curate its exhibits as if you will never be given a more important task in life.

Then sit back and enjoy as your child embarks on the grand tour.


This concludes Part 1. My work week is approaching quickly, and sleep beckons. Part 2 will expand on the specifics of museum curation, including what the exhibits themselves look like — a vital detail of my metaphor that my lengthy prelude precluded me from arriving at tonight! I’ll also reflect on how I hope to, with great affection, begin to construct and unveil these exhibits for my own little boy.

I hope you’re able to envision what I’m describing, even though at this midway point in the blog post the museum remains decidedly abstract (and its rooms remain decidedly empty). I promise I will fill them in Part II.

Thank you so much for reading! I’m deeply grateful for anyone who stuck around long enough to read this sentence. If you want to share your own reflections or otherwise engage the subject I’d be honored if you left a comment below. And again: thanks.


What to Expect (Everyone to Say) When You’re Expecting

As Americans, we recite our dialogue from a predictable script. For any number of life situations, both mundane and meaningful, there is a corresponding bit of verbiage that one is expected to utter.

Take a scenario that presents itself daily. When I say “Hi!” to any person, anywhere, I fully expect her to respond with “Hi, how are you?,” at which point she fully expects me to reply “Good, how are you?,” at which point I fully expect her to utter “Good!” This exact exchange unfolds like clockwork roughly 4.7 million times a day in the United States.

(If the script is followed in particularly mindless fashion, the person might then add an additional “How are you?,” opening up the distinct possibility that we will both get stuck in an eternal time loop, necessitating the existence of alternate timelines in order to continue with our previously scheduled lives. Small talk can be quite perilous.)

Another preset script I often see, and am guilty of myself, is when a co-worker returns from a vacation and I ask him how it went. I have no doubt that regardless of much fun he had, he will say “It flew by” or “I just needed a few more days!” It is an inviolable truth of human existence that he (or I) would have uttered exactly the same sentiment if our vacation had been 1, 2, 5, or 19 weeks long.

We too often read from invisible, unexamined scripts. We discuss the weather. We talk about how close we are to the weekend. To mix things up, we discuss what the weather will be like *on* the weekend.

But ever since my son Greyson was born last summer, I have noticed one particularly ingrained line recitation everywhere I go. The more I see its prevalence, the more it has begun to weigh on me. So allow me to unburden myself.

It is no overstatement to say that at least 90% of the fellow parents who have engaged me in conversation about Greyson since his birth have conveyed some version of the same well-meaning but ultimately discouraging advice.

The purest version of this advice, which to be clear I wholeheartedly embrace, is something along these lines: “Savor every precious second with your baby, because you will only have this amazing moment once in your life.” I appreciated hearing this the first time it was uttered to me, and I still appreciate it now. It’s a timeless reminder of the preciousness of babies, conveyed with earnestness and warmth, and the world can always use more earnestness, warmth, and timeless reminders.

The problem comes when this warm-hearted nucleus of advice is stripped down and diluted into lesser versions.

A remarkably common variation is to remove the upbeat tone, replacing it with an air of wistful regret, leaving something like this: “Enjoy this time while you can, because in no time at all it’ll be GONE.” Another way this is often said is “Blink and you’ll miss it!” I fully accept that this is an incontrovertible fact about parenthood (and more generally, about the elapsing of time spent pleasurably). But I remain staunchly unconvinced that a brand-new parent basking in the throes of brand-new-baby bliss must be needled and prodded on a daily basis about the inexorable crush of time.

But the very worst version of this sentiment is my real bugaboo. In that incarnation, not only is any optimism or warmth removed, but a morbid reminder is added of the inevitability of my innocent son’s eventual rebellion and moral deterioration. Such a sentiment, if it can even be labeled as such, sounds like this: “Might as well enjoy it now, because before you know it he’ll be telling you he hates your guts!” or, even more imaginatively, “It’s cute now when he puts things in his mouth, but eventually that’ll be a joint or a bottle of whiskey!”

(And yes. I’ve actually heard things like this. It’s amazing what men will often say to each other in the strenuous attempt to avoid expressing tenderness or empathy.)

Let’s be clear. The core of this nugget of wisdom, which dozens and dozens of decent fellow parents have conveyed to me in the last 10 months, is a superb piece of advice. Indispensable, even. You’ll never hear my Dead Poets Society-loving self taking issue with an ethos that amounts to “Carpe diem” (which I suppose in this case translates to “Seize the baby!”).

But the diluted (and to different degrees, downright dismal) variations of this injunction beg to be reexamined. An analogous example might be helpful at this point.

Imagine you just married the love of your life and embarked on your honeymoon. You have just returned from the trip, awash in newlywed euphoria, and you are telling an acquaintance how glowingly happy you are to be married. Imagine that his first response to you is “Enjoy this time while you have it, because in no time at all the honeymoon phase will be OVER.” Or even worse, “It’s cute now when she acts impulsively and loves affection, but eventually that’ll probably lead her to cheat on you with a younger guy!”

The latter (frankly gross) variation is a no-brainer, of course. It would be cruel to tell a newlywed husband that his wife may eventually be unfaithful to him — or even just that she will not always be so beautiful or charming.

But is it not just as cruel to tell a new parent that his tiny child may eventually be defiant or depraved — or even just that he will not always be so cute or lovable?

In both situations, a more experienced person insists that a less experienced person who is enjoying a moment of pure happiness must immediately grapple with sad (and purely theoretical) future outcomes. This strikes me as unnecessary and uncaring.

But the more commonplace and well-meaning version of this sentiment is perhaps even more problematic, precisely because it is so commonplace and well-meaning. In this version, a new parent (or a newlywed) is told that his current joy is precious but fleeting and thus must be enjoyed with a kind of fatalistic urgency. “Enjoy it while you can… suddenly he’ll be 18 and you’ll have NO IDEA where the time went!” The problem with conveying this to a blissed-out person is that it undermines their basic right to simply, well, enjoy their joy.

I have never experienced anything like the wide-eyed, soul-taking-flight happiness I felt when I became a father. All I wanted to do when I wasn’t with Greyson was tell EVERYONE I COULD FIND how amazing my son was. I struck up conversations with cashiers just so that I could tell them about Greyson and show them pictures on my phone. Just like Beyoncé, I was drunk in love.

So the first time someone told me to savor that baby bliss because it was a once-in-a-lifetime feeling, I signed off wholeheartedly on that sentiment. But as the weeks passed, I encountered dozens of people who expressed wistful, regretful, or even gloomily Eeyore-esque versions of the same thought.

It even seemed that the more eagerly I expressed my joy, the more earnestly I would be reminded how short-lived my joy would be. “They’re grown up before you know it,” some said. “You won’t even BELIEVE how quickly it will fly by,” others said. “My son won’t even let me hug him anymore!” or “My daughter completely ignores me some days!” are some of the more vivid examples I’ve encountered.

Why do we do this to each other? Why would we willfully impede another person’s joy with tales of our own disenchantment? Why not encourage a happy person to simply continue being happy?

So here is my takeaway: Do everything in your power to preserve joy wherever you find it, both in your own life and in the lives of others. Don’t force others — and try not to force yourself — to be burdened by the weight of possible eventualities. Never disenchant anyone unless it is absolutely necessary.

And when a beaming new dad or a new mom gushes to you about their baby, say something along these lines:

“I’m thrilled for you! Parenthood is a gift. Enjoy every single solitary amazing beautiful wonderful second of it.”