Thursday, February 25, 2016

How I Found Happiness as a Working Dad

I’m currently on a plane. In 3 hours and 45 minutes I will land in Salt Lake City, exit the airplane, make my way through the airport and onto the parking shuttle, find my car, pay the parking meter, drive 25 minutes to my house, walk to my door, unlock it, go to my daughter’s room where she most likely has been struggling to stay awake long enough to see me and hug me upon my arrival. She will most likely have failed, and I will kiss her forehead, whisper that I love her in her ear, and make my way upstairs to do the same for my son. Then I will go and crawl into bed with Stevie and we will chat a little bit about my trip before one of us falls asleep while the other one is mid-sentence. Whoever is left awake will kiss the other one and roll over happy to not have to sleep alone again. I don’t really like being away from my family, but the coming home part is sure nice. This isn’t the norm for me, but it could have been. 

Allow me to tell you a story. 

When I was in my early 20’s I was hired to work for a little shipping company that transports something like 40% of the US’s GDP every year. When some percentage of that percentage was late or delayed or lost or damaged, I was the guy you called and yelled at.  Eventually I became the guy who got on the phone when you asked for a supervisor, and shortly after that I became the guy who trained the guy who got on the phone when you ask for a supervisor. From there I moved on to become the guy who you got to speak to when you asked for a supervisor’s supervisor, then asked for that supervisor’s manager, and then asked that manager for the phone number of the president. No, I wasn’t the president of company. I was what was called a Corporate Customer Relations Manager, and if you got me on the phone you were either incredibly important, or incredibly angry/persistent. These phone calls were the worst of the worst, not always because of the people. Sometimes it was because we had really dropped the ball. Regardless of whose fault, the calls were rough. The job was rough. 

I spent my days putting out PR fires and averting disasters. I fixed things, and I helped a lot of people. But every evening when I came home after a day of being screamed at, ordered around and insulted, I was toxic to my family. 

Stevie would think I was mad at her. I’d explain it wasn’t her and that it was work, and she then she would want to talk about work. Then I would explain that I already had to go through it once and rehashing it again would only lengthen the amount of time I had to think about work, she’d say OK and we’d both sulk in angry silence, usually with our newborn daughter staring directly at us. 

I decided that instead of coming home and transferring my shitty, toxic mood to my family I would go directly to the office and decompress every day. It worked at first. I would come home, go straight to the office, write away the anger and stress of the day, and emerge a new man! The only problem was that by the time I emerged from my pain pit, my daughter would be in bed and Stevie would be ready to follow. Something needed to change, but I was terrified. 

By this point I had worked at at my job for nearly a decade. I considered it my forever job, and was in the process of interviewing for a position that would have brought with it a hefty pay increase. My boss at the time had been with the company for longer than I had been alive. People don’t leave that job. Still, something in my gut told me that if I didn’t find a way out of that job, Stevie and the kids were going to be the ones that paid the price. Sure, I was bringing home money, but I wasn’t being the kind of father I wanted to be – a happy one. A balanced one.

Stevie’s support I took a leap of faith and started over – all the way over. All I had known for most of my adult life was logistics and customer service. I didn’t know what else I would be good at, but I knew that whatever job I took would need to be one that let me be a father first. 

After applying for a few different positions I finally was given an opportunity to move into marketing by a woman who became one of Stevie and I’s best friends. It was an entry level position, and small cut in pay, but a huge opportunity to learn a new skill that would pull me from the grips of a lifetime of decompressing alone in my office while my kids grew up outside the door. 

I spent the next two years at that job learning SEO and Online Marketing, and when I eventually was offered a senior position at a different company, my boss congratulated me and wished me well. 

In my interview for Clearlink I was nervous. I knew it would be more pay, and I would have more opportunities to advance, but what I didn’t know was how they would feel about my priorities. In my experience, and in the way a work-ethic had always been communicated to me, the job came first. Not that family wasn’t important, it was just that my lot in life as man was to sacrifice my time with my family for the good of my family. That just didn’t fly with me. That is not the dad I want to be. 

So I took another leap of faith. I was honest. 

When they asked me what I was passionate about, I told them my passion was my family and my kids. I mentioned my blog and how I built it from scratch telling stories about fatherhood. I let them know that my perfect position would be one where I got to come into the office and work with a smart, fun collaborative group and at the end of the day I could leave work and work and go home to be an engaged father with my family. It was a long, rambling answer, but I could tell by their faces and their nods by the end of the interview that I had found the job I was looking for. I received an offer within an hour. 

I’m truly blessed now. I have not missed a single gymnastics or ballet practice. I have been at every parent teacher conference and Halloween Parade. When my child is sick, my boss is the first one to say go. But the most important part? I may work extra hours here and there, but when I walk in the door after work now I don’t go straight to my office. I go straight to my kids.

I still get work done, a lot of work done. I go to work and for 8+ hours a day I work with one of the smartest collaborative teams I could ever dream of. Then I go home and laugh with my kids. When Stevie asks me about work, I don’t shy away from it. It is perfect. I feel balanced. Oh, and the guy who got the position that I was interviewing for before I left what I thought was my "forever job"? He has spent the better part of the last few years away from his family training customer service reps in Malaysia. He’s a good friend and a wonderful father too, but I can’t imagine being away that long. And thanks to a leap of faith, a little bit of gentle nudging by my wife, and openly communicating my needs to my employer from the beginning, now I don’t have to. And that has made all the difference. 

This post is sponsored by Plum Organics. Recently they teamed up with one of my favorite new websites, Fatherly. Be sure to go check out their other posts about working parents. They are so well written. I am honored to be counted among them!

But first, a little more about my sponsor:  

Plum Organics makes amazing, nutritious food for kids and the have been sending them to us for the past year. For that reason the kids are ecstatic that Plum is a sponsor of this blog. I am excited for another reason. Well, two really. I like the product, and two, do you notice how many times in the post above I mentioned Plum Organics? That’s not what they are looking for. They want to sponsor conversations. They want to be patrons of my writing, and for that and the fact that their product is delicious and healthy, I honestly think you should give them a try. 

Dad 2.0 and the Very First DadSLAM

Three years ago, at the suggestion of a friend, I applied to speak at a dad blogging conference with 0 expectations of being selected. I was relatively new to blogging, and while I had worked in marketing and social media for a while, I figured there were plenty of people more suited to speak.

A few months later I got a message on Facebook from Doug French, co-founder of the Dad 2.0 Summit asking if we could hop on a call and find a place for me in the speaking schedule. In my reply, and the subsequent phone call I kept my voice at an even keel and told myself over and over in my head to do my very best to sound like this was just a regular thing for me. It wasn’t.

When I hung up with Doug I immediately called Stevie and let out the child-like excitement I had tried to keep hidden. A few months later I picked up my “speaker” badge from the registration desk of the J Willard Marriot in New Orleans and felt a sense of pride in myself that had only been surpassed by the four moments.

Those four moments are as follows:
  • Walking to my car after my last college final
  • Looking Stevie in the eyes when she said “I do”
  • Becoming a dad 
  • Becoming a dad of two
On Friday night I was able to add another one to the list. Sure, that's a bit hyperbolic, but it was a really great night! I'll explain.

I'm not sure if you know this, but there is a pretty tight-knit community of Dad Bloggers out there. We congregate online to talk about all things parenthood, some things blogging, and pretty much everything else. We argue and squabble about religion and politics. We read and share each others' posts. We ask for and give advice that is sometimes wrong and sometimes right. It is a community unlike any I have ever been a part of, but despite how close we are, one thing we rarely get to do is hear each other.

For the past 6 years Dad 2.0 Summit co-founders Doug French and John Pacini have worked to not only give dads a voice, but to also foster conversations about our roll of the modern father. In years past, conference goers have attended key-note speeches and panel discussions about helping out more in the home, finding work life balance, working with brands to promote the image of an engaged father in the media in contrast to the bumbling, goofy one that was once such a problem.

In-between these sessions, the conference usually selects 4-6 spotlight readers. These are dad bloggers, like myself, who aren’t famous published authors, media personalities, or professional speakers who are selected to stand in front of a room of several hundred of their peers and read something they have written about being a dad. They are usually a mix of humor and more serious subjects.

The first year I attended, I heard Lorne Jaffe of Raising Sienna read a post about clawing his way through his often crippling anxiety to find a way be the father his daughter needs. I was moved to tears. I needed more. Four readers a year wasn’t enough. I immediately knew what my pitch for the following year would be. We needed an open mic.

The next year my pitch didn’t get picked up. I’m sure there were logistical reasons, but I was bummed. I was also honored to be picked to speak on another subject that bloggers wanted to hear about, SEO. But I knew, deep down, that what I really wanted was to get more of the guys to read their work. I remember mentioning the idea to one of my dad blogger friends. His reply was disheartening. “I don’t think it will work. I don’t think enough guys will want to give away a night of their conference to sit in a room and read their posts.” Part of his fear was also mine. The nights at this conference are usually saved for festivities and libations. Would a big enough group of guys want to just hang out and hear each others' words instead of a night out on the town in a fun city? I closed my eyes and saw the standing ovation Thom Hoffmon received after reading a post about his son in 2015. Yes. If we give them a podium, they will come.

I set my sites on 2016.

This year I was asked to return to Dad 2 Summit to moderate an awesome nuts and bolts blogging panel about making data based decisions to grow social channels and content creation. That may sound boring, but as an online marketing guy it is something I know a lot about and have a ton of fun speaking on. I was elated to be invited back for a third time, but before I let Doug off the phone I gathered up any courage I could find and brought up my passion project. I wanted them to have an open mic, in the vein of The Moth and Listen to Your Mother, for the guys. Not only did I want them to agree to have it, I wanted plan it, prep it, and host it.

Doug didn’t take any convincing. He even had a name. DadSlam was born. Doug is good people.
There was one problem. DadSlam was an official conference activity, but it wasn’t a sponsored one. The way the blogging conferences work is that most of the revenue comes from the brands that sponsor it in the hopes of making contact with a group of influencers. The brands will set up booths, sponsor room drops with fun product, and even sponsor activities by providing a location, food, and drinks.

Doug and John were able to get us a location, but it was too late to secure a sponsor. To make things even more stressful, DadSlam was on the schedule for Friday night 9:30 until 11:00. From 6:30 – 9:00, the awesome folks at LEGO were taking pretty much the entire conference to an after hours party at the Smithsonian with amazing food and plenty of yummy beer. Outwardly I had always been confident that people would come. At around 8:30 when I called Uber to get from the Smithsonian to the hotel to set up the room for the first DadSlam, I looked back at the giant room of dads drinking and eating and laughing, and for the first time worried that none of them would follow.

Well, as I already spoiled at the top of the post, that didn’t happen. With five minutes to go before our first DadSlam the room was at 80% capacity. At 9:35 we were at standing room only. I started the night out with a few laughs and a regrettable story about my kids and Mcdonald’s play place, and by the time we had 5 readers up there were so many names in the hat that it would be impossible to get through them all. My face hurt from smiling.

James of SAHD PDX
I sent Doug a text. “It is packed!” A few minutes later Doug was there, sitting with me at the front of the room. As each reader finished the room erupted with applause. Guys who couldn’t make the conference sent text messages to the guys who were and asked us to Periscope (live stream) it. We made a sign from a piece of paper and a Sharpie marker and created a the hashtag #DadSlam. Hundreds of tweets started rolling through my phone. Midway through, Doug leaned over to me and said “This is amazing. We have to do this every year.”

Scotty Schrier of Dads Who Change Diapers

Guys read funny posts and sad posts. One started crying mid-post and another dad came up to the podium and put his hand on his shoulder until he was able to compose himself and finish reading. We had standing ovations and hoots and hollers. It was a thousand times better than I could have ever imagined it would be.

Here’s how good it was. When 11:00 PM came around and they kicked us out of the room to clean it, we picked up shop, moved rooms and kept going for another hour. Nobody wanted it to end.
I know I didn’t.

Armin Brott of Mr. Dad

For the rest of the weekend guys continued to come up to me and say how much the #DadSlam meant to them, and how it was the highlight of the conference. I couldn’t do anything but agree. It was more than the highlight of the conference for me.

It was one of the best nights of my life.

If you liked this blog, please come find me on the Ask Your Dad Facebook Page!

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

4 Tips for Getting Our Kids to Eat

This post is part of a partnership with Campbell’s Soup and their #RealRealLife campaign. You can watch all their adorable videos here. I am being compensated by Campbell's in money and, more importantly, in delicious soup...

Hey everyone! Guess what?? Stevie, my wife/best friend/partner in crime/author of Big Awesome Mess stopped in to write this months #RealRealLife post! The theme was "tips and tricks for getting your kids to eat their dinner" and there is no one better at that than my wife. I'm horrible at talking the kids into eating. I basically do a line for line reenactment of the scene from Beauty and the Beast where Beast is trying to get Belle to come down to dinner.  

On the other hand, when it comes to talking the kids into eating dinner, Stevie is the toddler whisperer. Here is her blog post on how she does it:


Hey Ask Your Dad Blog readers, Mom here. 

Here’s the thing about “tips." I can give you all the tips, but there’s no telling if it’s going to work for your kid or not. I once read a “tip” somewhere that I needed to get down on my kid’s level to talk when she’s in trouble. I got poked in the eye. So I'm not going to give you tips. I am just going to tell you what kind of works for us. As John and I have always said, this is not an advice blog. This is a place for us to share what works (and what doesn't work) for us and the eye patches that often come with it.

That being said…here are some “tips” for getting our kids to eat.

If there’s anything the duchess has going for her, it’s her willingness to eat. I’ve watched fellow parents beg and plead with their toddler for the love of God, at least LOOK at your chicken! 

So far, we've done ok. Here's how (I think) we've done it:

**Disclaimer: if I’ve upset the Toddler Gods with this post and they suddenly strike me down with a completely stubborn eater, I reserve the right to take it down and forevermore deny its existence**

Involve them in as much of the decision making process as possible, as long as it has nothing to do with the food they are going to eat.

What I mean by this is: our kids already seem to have very little control over their lives to begin with. John and I tell them what time to get up, suggest what they wear, where they are going at what time and when to go to bed. Personally, it sounds like a pretty awesome life to me, but I can see how it could be frustrating for a toddler. So I give them some power. Just not the power that they can use to not eat food. Duchess, do you want to set the table? Where do you want to sit? Where should mommy and daddy sit? Which fork would you like? Do you want water or milk? Which cup? All these decisions give her some control over her meal time, which I think it makes her less power-hungry when it comes time to “choose” what to eat.

We also try to involve them in the "choosing what to eat" department. One easy way we do that is to have simple meals on hand that kids can help with and make decisions about. We always have our cupboards stocked with Campbell's soup and have them on display. It's pretty easy to just open the cupboard and say "It's soup night! Which kind should we make?" But you need inflection when you say it. Say it right. "Which kind should we MAKE?" See that? Emphasis on the make. It takes some practice. 

What's nice is Campbell's has so many different varieties that it really gives them lots of options and control. And I can know that whichever one they choose, I know I'm giving them something I can trust. I always hope they are going to go for a yummy tomato soup but they just can't pass up the fun shaped noodles in the Star Wars and Frozen varieties. And Captain typically go for the alphabet soup so he can shout out the letters he finds. Though one time we got Chicken NoodleO’s® Soup and he still insisted on shouting every letter he found. It was adorable. At first. 

Tell them what they are eating.

As adults we get to look at menus when we go to a restaurant. We get to read everything that is coming in our meal and often, how it is made. When we cook dinner at home, we know what’s going into it and how it was prepared. Kids don’t. They generally just get handed a meal and all they know is what color it is, what it smells like... and if they dare put it in their mouths, what it tastes like. 

I try to introduce them to the food they will be eating before it is on their plate in front of them. Sometimes, with simple meals like Campbell's Condensed Soups this involves letting them cook. 

Other times it just involves reminding John to bring the ingredients of a meal over and letting them try them while he is cooking. Most of the time it comes down to walking them through everything that is on their plate. This is chicken, these are brussel sprouts, this is rice.

My hope is that this helps them associate one meal with another a little better. Chicken doesn’t always look the same. A chicken breast looks a lot different than chicken strips. If I put chunks of chicken in front of Duchess, she may not know what it is and assume she doesn’t like it. But if I tell her that it’s chicken, she knows she likes chicken, she’ll eat the chicken. 

This works 60% of the time every time.

Cut back on the snacking.

This works really well, but is also a tip that John and I are really bad about. When we get home from work and get the kids home from daycare, it’s already pretty late. John has to start cooking right away and I’m on “please make the baby stop following me around crying” duty. So sometimes it’s easier to just let Duchess have a snack if she wants one. But that can often lead to her being less hungry around dinner time. 

The way we've tried to remedy this is by having only small and relatively healthy snacks available. In our fridge, we have a pull-out that is just Duchess's height. Her and her brother are allowed to choose whatever they want from it, but only one between school and dinner. We keep yogurt, sliced apples, carrots, raisins and string cheese in there. So at least if she doesn't eat a TON for dinner, we know it’s because she’s already eaten an apple. And that’s fine by us.

Don’t start a war.

This is soooo much easier said than done, but I if we can keep John from going into the aforementioned Beast mode, I've found that dinner disputes generally have positive outcomes.  

Going back to my first point, our kids don’t have control over a lot in their world yet, so when they realize that they have control over something, they tend to fight to the death (well not death, time-out) to keep it - even if that means refusing entire meals. 

They’re onto us. They know we won’t let them starve. It’s a waiting game that they will always end up winning because we love them and are legally obligated to feed them eventually. I think what happens is that we get so set on them "trying" something that we try to force it. “Try the broccoli, you’ll like it! I promise! I need to you try one bite and you can have dessert. Can you just lick it? I’ll buy you a pony. I'll put the broccoli on a pony. PLEASE??

For the most part, there is no negotiating in the Kinnear house. If Duchess doesn’t want to try something she doesn’t have to try it. We know eventually she’ll come around to it when she’s in the mood, even with broccoli, and since she knows we aren’t going to force her, she doesn’t get combative about it. I think that makes her more open to trying new foods instead of just jumping on the “NO” bandwagon from the start. 

Granted... we don't have a 100% success rate. John may or may not have paid Duchess $5.00 the other night to try salmon. The good news is that salmon is now her favorite food, the bad news is she thinks she gets five bucks every time she eats it. Maybe we'll just stick to soup. We all love soup.  

- Stevie

If you enjoyed this post, be sure to come find me on my blog Big Awesome Mess, and on the Big Awesome Mess Facebook Page. It is funny like John's blog, but craftier and written by me!