Defending Dads

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Category: Single Fatherhood in Practice

George Foreman’s Gift to Single Dads

Fast food is seldom good food, and if it is good food, it’s expensive. Considering that most single dads without a publishing credit for the song “Happy” are on a budget, how can we eat smart for less? What are our options?

I keep it simple: BJ’s Wholesale Club and my George Foreman Grill.

BJ's Wholesale Club

BJ’s Wholesale Club Official Logo

Who cooks in a necktie?

George Foreman Official Site


I sneak into BJ’s as early as possible and snatch up some variation of the following:

  • a 50-lb. pack of chicken breasts, pork chops or steak;
  • five-gallon drums of soy sauce, minced garlic or whatever premixed marinade; and
  • Hefty bag-sized packages of frozen sweet potato fries, fresh broccoli, zucchini and spinach

I’m kidding about the sizes, but I’m writing about BJ’s. No one goes there to buy a single onion because they only sell them by the truckload.

When I get the stuff home, I prep the meat as follows:

  • wash it;
  • use a steak knife or ice pick to perforate it;
  • divide it into two or more groups, each of which I place into a large Baggie;
  • prepare a different marinade for each Baggie, my favorite being the soy sauce and minced garlic;
  • apply these marinades to the respective Baggies; and
  • seal the Baggies up, throw some in the fridge and the rest in the freezer

After a couple of hours, the meat in the fridge will be ready for the grill.

Veggies are easy. I wash them, slice or chop the zucchini, broccoli and spinach then drop portions of each into storage bins.

When it’s time to cook, I preheat my oven to 425°, line a baking tray with tin foil, spray it with vegetable oil, pour out a batch of frozen sweet potato fries into the tray, then let that cook for 20-30 minutes, turning the fries at the half-way mark.

Next, I lay out two large pieces of tin foil on a counter and spray them both with vegetable oil. I drop a portion of veggies into one piece of foil, sprinkle it with adobo, pepper and a little lemon juice, then spread out three slices of butter on top. I wrap the foil into a packet around the veggies. I plug in the grill, then place the foil packet on the upper section of the grill closest to the hinge and let it cook. The packet allows the veggies to cook in a mixture of butter, lemon juice and seasonings.

I place the second piece of foil on the lower half of the grill furthest from the hinge. I make sure there is enough to fold over to protect the upper jaw of the grill during cooking while not overlapping the veggie packet. I throw my marinated meat on the second sheet of foil, fold that over the meat, then close the grill.

At this point, my sweet potato fries are about half done. I pull them out of the oven, flip ’em and put ’em back in for another 10-15 minutes. I use the down time to clean up.

Within the next 15 minutes, I have a seriously appetizing, nutritious meal ready to eat.

Within 25 minutes, I have an empty plate and not a whole lot to clean up. See, the foil has protected the grill surface. After cooking, the foil can be tossed and a quick wipe down of the grill is all the cleaning to be done.

Next, I slip on pumps, a string of pearls and vacuum the living room!

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Photo credit to Laura Clayton via Pinterest

Coping With Maturing Children

You no longer see your kids every day. You haven’t for a while. Your thoughts vacillate between asserting your right to see them and refraining from further upsetting them. Otherwise, you’re dealing with the pain of missing them. That’s how it goes. What are you going to do about it? What can you do about it?

Just as you have adjusted to the new normal of intermittent contact with the kids, they change on you. They’re getting older. New and powerful hormones are flooding their blood streams. To an extent, they’ve grown accustomed to your absence. It’s a coping mechanism. Missing you hurts them as much as or more than missing them hurts you.

Living in separate homes has irrevocably changed your relationship. During visits, they might show you a certain diminished affection. You feel new pain and start a new healing process. You might wonder if the heartbreak will ever stop.

Don’t worry. If you’ve done the best you can by your kids and your relationship is strong, your kids are hard-wired to love you. A break in the parent-child connection need not cause long-term damage or be permanent. How you handle such a break dictates the strength of your bond as time goes by.

Play it cool. Whatever emotional turmoil you might feel, your kids are going through ten times that without the coping skills inherent with maturity. Give them the space they need to figure things out. Say to them something like “I’m sorry that we’ll be missing each other for a while, but I want you to be where ever it is you are happiest. That’s what’s most important to me. When you’re ready to visit again, I will be here for you, I won’t be angry with you and I could never love you any less.”

Despite your fears of estrangement, forced visitation is likely to do more harm than good. The tension they experienced during the breakup of the marriage has traumatized them enough. When they are ready to return to your loving arms, they will. Just do your best to present them with a welcoming environment and a 1,000 watt grin.

Love should never be about smothering the object of one’s affections. Rather, it has to be about letting go when appropriate. You have endured enough pain to take just a little more. Try to think of the rewards to come.

In the interim, focus on you. Do whatever it takes to keep your mind off the separation. Work like an inmate on a chain gang, exercise like an Olympian, read like a PhD candidate, fix your house like a host on the DIY network, whatever it takes. Mustering the motivation to do so will be a challenge, but once you throw your self into living, chances are you can stay there…at least until the next catastrophe!

Under the best circumstances, maintaining a healthy parent-child relationship is a trial, but doing so at a distance can be excruciating. The Marines have a great outlook on facing challenges: Adapt and overcome.

Unleashing Your Inner-Mom: How to Handle Boo-boos

A possible pitfall for many single dads is an underdeveloped sense of empathy for their children. Most men are raised to shrug off the multiple dings we absorb during an average day. When our children come to us with nose bleeds, upset tummies or after slips and falls that don’t result in serious injury, I think we are less likely to respond with the whole “kiss-the-boo-boo” thing than the average mom. We are more apt to offer some variation of the “walk it off” refrain we’ve heard from every schmuck carrying a whistle since grade school. This is definitely an issue for me.

In my case, the uncertainty of how to handle my children’s pain stems from:

  • a sense of helplessness because, if there is no obvious sign of injury or illness, I cannot accurately gauge the severity of the pain;
  • a subconscious plea to all available deities that any injuries or illnesses suffered are minor (what dad up at 3 AM watching TV because he’s sweating college money doesn’t cringe when one of those St. Jude’s commercials pops up?); and
  • my own life-long tendency to ignore physical pain that doesn’t keep me from standing upright.

When either of my kids comes to me crying, after I settle her/his panic, my brain immediately shifts into analysis mode, much like those scenes in the original Terminator showing the cyborg’s POV. I ask the appropriate questions and, based on the responses, assess my options, then take action. Sometimes, I remember to throw in a little affection. Sometimes.

Child care is the ultimate measure of one’s ability to multi-task. When mine are with me, I’m thinking of 150 things while doing 12 at any given moment. The very thought of a trip to an urgent care center or emergency room eclipses all. If either becomes a necessity, the day is done and a prayer goes up for a positive outcome. Unfortunately, anything short of a real emergency might find my response lacking. Not enough tenderness, I fear. I need to fine tune the balance between gentle reassurance and definitive action. The abilities to calmly dislodge food from a trachea, splint a fracture or dress a wound are of no small importance, but in a child’s mind, the memory of having a shoulder to cry on at a time of distress could be the difference between a dad raising a sociologist or a sociopath.

No normal person wants to see a kid in pain, but as any good pediatric nurse might advise a concerned parent, a little coddling does a lot of curing. Dads, unfold those arms, wrap ’em around your kid and learn to kiss those boo-boos.

Chef Daddy

What to feed the itinerant children of divorced parents? It’s a question with as many answers as there are varieties of dog, but I have to think the greatest factors are household income, time — and a kid’s discerning palate.

They look at what you took time, effort and love to fix for them with singular disgust; as if you’ve placed before them a slithering, translucent, gelatinous mass with sentient eyes that dare anyone to reach for a fork.

For those dads not sitting on a fat trust, settlement or lottery jackpot, time is money. A forty-plus hour work week doesn’t afford the average dad much time to establish his child(ren)’s favorite foods much less how to prepare them, and I mean prepare them just so. Any dad who has fried up a burger with the delusion that his kid will take to it like a Big Mac has likely heard a rendition of the “But I/We Wanted McDonald’s” rap. Conversely, caving in to demands for fast food sets an expensive and nutritionally bereft precedent.

Welcome to the Visiting Kiddie Cuisine Conundrum.

What gets me about this is the sheer vehemence with which some kids express food biases. They look at what you took time, effort and love to fix for them with singular disgust; as if you’ve placed before them a slithering, translucent, gelatinous mass with sentient eyes that dare anyone to reach for a fork.

I have fought the food battle with each of my kids at one point or another, but my little girl had easily been most defiant. This is where things got tricky.

I knew it was nuts to regularly engage my own child in a battle of wills over her preference for McNuggets to sauteed zucchini; this only wasted precious time and could have driven her to resent me. I also knew that American girls are susceptible to developing serious food and body image issues that result in eating disorders. Trying to push her at such a young age to make positive food choices could certainly lead her down that path. I was in over my head. It was time to jump online.

There, I was reminded that children need to feel a sense of autonomy, especially at meal time. I now believe the best way to teach children about nutrition and to expand their menu is to feed them what they like while gently, persistently offering them new and better options. No matter how many times the kids reject alternative foods, I keep them around and make a show of eating them. Sooner or later, my kids’ natural curiosity tends to trump their obstinance.

Another thing I learned is to develop my grill game. Becoming a better cook has saved me tons of money and time. Best of all, the kids and I take our meals together…and my daughter is eating well.

Ending A Visit

There’s only one bad thing about visits: They end. For the benefit of non-parents, dropping the kids off is like returning a rented Mercedes to an Enterprise lot, then walking home. Through a hurricane.

I can handle it now, but it definitely took a while to adjust. Consistency is key for fathers AND children. Everyone has to know that the visits will occur at regular intervals.

I hear some guys get every other weekend. Imagine the work it takes to maintain a strong bond with kids who visit less frequently than a lawn care crew.

My first two attorneys were brutally honest with me about visitation scenarios. It was all routine to them. I got a sense that most fathers don’t openly object to such a dismal status quo.

My former attorneys seemed annoyed that I found the idea of twice-monthly visits unacceptable. They each emphasized that fighting a custody order would be expensive and labor intensive. When I suggested it was time custody orders better reflected modern lifestyles, my second lawyer said “you’re talking about something that won’t change during our lifetime.” They sounded like doctors trying to talk me out of removing my own appendix.

Fortunately for me — and the kids — the question of visitation has worked itself out, but man, do I feel for guys who don’t have it so good. Then, I wonder when they are going to stand up.

Saying “bye” is never easy, but over time, it does lose its sting. Practice makes perfect, after all. I just feel blessed that the kids and I get our reps in once a week rather than twice a month.

Home Making(?)

Most single men spend more time thinking of nail polish remover than the environments of their own homes. Even now, I sleep on a faux-leather futon I bought at Walmart. I still tell people that I could sleep on a flight of stairs so long as I get at least 5 hours a night.

For such men as myself, “home” is where ever you go to grab some sleep, wolf down take-out and peep a good flick or the big game when time permits. We don’t need pictures on the walls, matching towel sets, dishes, dining tables, curtains or electric air fresheners. When family threatens to visit, we encourage them to check Airbnb or Hotels.com. Before I daddy’d up, my dad came to New York to celebrate my graduation from college. After a night on the town, we hit up a 24-hour Sleepy’s to order him a bed for delivery sometime after sun-up.

It’s utterly ridiculous how most men live without the influence of a woman. The term “caveman”, thousands of years after it actually applied to real life, retains more than some relevance today.

Kids really screw up that marvelously simple dynamic. They actually benefit from what some consider the comforts of home. A newly single dad must address this concern.

Home decor is a time-consuming, complex and expensive endeavor. While I don’t dare pretend to have this issue resolved in my own world, I am perfectly comfortable suggesting IKEA as a go-to destination for guys looking to make a “home” as most understand the word. Yes, you need to be handy to some degree in order to put their stuff together, but IKEA focuses on selling rooms rather than pieces or sets, and for men inexperienced with home-making, this is invaluable.

Alas, furniture is just the beginning of the home-making oddysey. Next is the challenge of “nick nacks”. A furnished home is a wonderful start…especially if a color scheme is involved! But without those stupid nick nacks, your home will give off the vibe of a doctor’s waiting room, only with less warmth. Your only options here are to consult decorating magazines or (gasp) get yourself a girlfriend. You don’t stand a chance on your own. Old sports trophies, lava lamps and smoke-stained bongs do not lend credibility to a man’s identity as a single parent. Bro, you will need help here. I know I do!

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