Archive | October, 2011

Halloween, part Deux

30 Oct

So today was the official family-carving day. As you can see we added a little StarWars-y-ness to the equation. Funny thing is, everyone in the family is glad to have Dork Daddy carve cool pumpkins for them, but when Dork Daddy needs help scooping the yucky guts out, suddenly nobody can be found.

-Dork Dad

Music lessons – when and how?

28 Oct

n my entire life I only have one regret: I gave up piano lessons somewhere around 4th or 5th grade. That in and of itself doesn’t seem like such a big deal, but music is huge in my life. HUGE. My music collection easily tops 400 CD’s. I am convinced that I could have been a world-class conductor, or film score composer if my life had moved in that direction. I feel it in my soul. I speak the language. I understand intimately the art and the science. The only thing I can’t do is MAKE the music itself, and there isn’t a day goes by that I don’t feel that loss. Music is an inextricable part of my DNA. It feeds my soul, nourishes my mind – and provides some EXCELLENT opportunities for dorking-out.

I want that for my kids; and if I’m able to infect them with the love of music that I have, I want them to be able to do one better. I want them to have what I don’t have. Whenever they feel the need I want them to be able to sit down at a piano and tell everyone in the room what their souls are saying in a way that I can’t. Lately we have been thinking a lot about when and how to give that gift to my kids. Piano lessons are the obvious first step in a formal relationship with music, and we’re seriously considering whether it’s time to make that happen for my 5-year-old. But more important than the formal relationship with music is the intimate relationship, the emotional relationship. If they don’t love it, there’s little benefit to enforcing regular practice and lessons. The LOVE has to come first, and even if my kids never learn to make the music themselves, if I’m able to pass on to them the love of music that I have, that’s gift enough.

Certainly a measure of musical aptitude can’t be taught, or learned. It’s innate. It was always there for me. I can remember at an incredibly young age vocally harmonizing with the vacuum cleaner as my mom cleaned the house. If that seed is there, there are things you can do to nurture it, to foster it – help it grow. When I look back at my childhood I can piece together the progression of influences that ultimately informed my relationship with music. Of course, times are different now and I’m constantly trying to figure out how to translate my childhood musical experiences into today’s world for my own kids.

It started with a little Fisher Price record player (yep, vinyl) and a few records. There was a Tchaikovsky record that someone would put on at lights-out. The first track was his Piano Concerto 1, in B flat minor, an amazing piece to drift off to sleep to. At the same time I also had a recording of Disney’s “Peter And The Wolf”. I remember listening to the record and flipping through the accompanying picture book. The genius of that work is that it actually gives a child their first “formal” musical education. It connects the dots between music and the emotions it tries to communicate by pointing out how different instruments represent the personalities of the different characters in the story: the lazy clarinet for Ivan the cat, for the bird Sasha a flute “waaay up high,” a bassoon for Grand PaPa, kettle drums for the hunters’ guns, etc. After that came 1981, “E.T. The Extraterrestrial”, and cassette tapes. The Tchaikovsky record got swapped out for the soundtrack, and for at least a year solid I fell asleep to John Williams’ masterpiece. It wasn’t much of a leap from the lessons of “Peter In The Wolf” to realizing how John Williams uses various “themes” to communicate emotion in his scores (as illustrated exquisitely in his colossal magnum opus, the entire Star Wars musical portfolio). So by the age of 8, between Tchaikovsky, John Williams, and Walt Disney I had a better musical understanding than most adults how music could perfectly communicate feeling and thought using different instruments, tempo, pitch and/or variations on a musical theme.

The other thing I had was a damned stubborn streak – the exact same stubborn streak that my daughter has. The epic battles between me and my mother over practicing the piano were as much about someone else MAKING me practice as they were about anything else. I remember the actual moment when I figured out that I was wasting my time if I wasn’t going to practice. As much as I loved making the music, at that age my chief resistance to practicing was because someone was telling me I HAD to practice. I gave myself a choice: practice regularly and concede to my mother that she was right, or give up piano lessons out of stubbornness and concede victory to nobody. I chose the latter, and have regretted it for the rest of my life. I’m anticipating the same pig-headedness from my female clone, 32 years younger.

Regardless, the time is fast approaching when we need to open the door to formal music lessons. The benefits are obvious and it’s going to happen, the only question is when. There are a dozen factors that play into the decision, not the least of which is her age. We’ve asked around, looking into when other parents started their kids on the piano and asking piano teachers when they think kids should start. Parents seem to indicate anywhere between 5 and 7 years. Most piano teachers we’ve asked have said that starting as late as 7 is fine. One music teacher who played very large in the musical development in MY life (who I met in 7th grade), who I have immeasurable respect for, to whom I will owe a debt of gratitude for the rest of my life, says that you should start your kids on formal lessons as soon as they know their ABC’s (3 years old?!?). The real factor, at least as I see it, is the child’s ability to sit down and focus for a solid half-hour, two or three times a week. Some kindergarteners have it, some don’t. My daughter has it, but only when she’s REALLY into what she’s doing (there’s that pig-headed, stubborn streak). Then there’s all her other activities to take into account. Between soccer, dance class, kindergarten, swim lessons, and various social obligations, this girl’s schedule is pretty blocked out. I worry about OVER scheduling her. After all, 5-year-olds need downtime; my daughter more than most.

It’s a very narrow needle to thread. We don’t want to miss the boat and get her started too late. But we don’t want to extinguish the flame before it’s even lit by loading on too much too soon. For the moment we’ve decided to wait. We’re still settling into kindergarten, there’s a trip to Disneyland and Christmas looming in the next few months, and a brand new baby brother coming not too far off after that. Between those things and her regularly scheduled activities, I’ve got to believe that’s about all the stuff a kindergartener can handle on her plate at one time. Perhaps we’ll do it next summer, when she’s 6 and the dust has settled from the new baby.

I’d like to put the question to YOU, readers. What do you think? How soon is too soon? How late is too late? How and when did you get your kids into music? How and when did your parents get YOU into music? Did it work, or did it have the opposite effect? Your comments would be most welcome. I would genuinely appreciate your perspective and a healthy discussion on something that is very, very important to me.

-Dork Dad

This Is Halloween

26 Oct

ome of the challenges a daddy faces are entirely of his own making. It’s jack-o-lantern season and for a ritual that is supposed to be all fun and smiles, I’m suddenly feeling the pressure to perform. How did it come to this? How did this turn into a referendum on the totality of my skills as a father? As I look back I really have nobody to blame but myself.

It started out innocently enough. It was 2008 and my daughter was just old enough to appreciate Halloween and jack-o-lanterns. Her baby brother was just born, Disney princesses were the be-all-and-end-all of her existence and in fact we were planning a trip to Disneyland in a month’s time. I wanted to do something a little special for her jack-o-lantern – after all she wasn’t old enough to carve one herself, and her new brother took up a lot of her parents’ attention in the past few months. So I sat down and was proud to make the following Halloween offering to my little princess (the precedent was set):

I was rather proud of myself with this one from 2008, but enough people had no idea what it was that I added the inset for clarity.

The next year rolled around quickly enough. The little brother was older, talking now (his 8th word was “Batman”… one of my crowning Dorkdaddy achievements), and attentive enough to put his hand in the squishy pumpkin to “help”. My daughter was more sophisticated, but princesses still reigned supreme in her neighborhood of make-believe. A trip to the pumpkin patch that year (when did pumpkin patches become AMUSEMENT PARKS?!) revealed a stack of pumpkins called “Cinderella pumpkins”. It didn’t take much to connect the creativity dots. So along with a jack-o-lantern of the only thing my infant son could recognize, I spent a good amount of time putting together this gem for my little girl (the precedent became a pattern):

Got a little crazy with the glitter glue here in 2009.

The following year we made another trip to Disneyland, this time during Halloween itself. We actually trick-or-treated in the park itself (not recommended by the way). We were all amped up on corporate Disney imagery. My daughter had made a cultural shift away from princesses and towards Tinkerbelle. My son LOVED the Haunted Mansion converted to “The Nightmare Before Christmas”. So it was going to be another Disney-esque jack-o-lantern year. What I didn’t plan on was the fact that my daughter remembered the previous two years’ offerings, and requested… nay, EXPECTED something of the same ilk that year. I was up to the challenge:

Tink and Jack from 2010. Simple.

This year is another story. My girl is 5. My boy is 3. Another baby is on the way. My wife and I haven’t been out on a date in longer than either of us can remember. Chaos is the status-quo and in the past 12 months the home-dynamics have evolved to a state that makes organizing a coherent thought nearly impossible for an adult. We (my wife and I) are in an epic battle to maintain our mental sanity. It’s a natural, predictable stage in the evolution of a parent. This too shall pass and morph into something more exhausting and challenging. In the meanwhile, Halloween is upon us again – and the kids are looking to Daddy to bring the goods. Only this year I’ve got TWO kids that expect “awesome”, and the family-dynamics are such that I’m lucky if I’m able to get out of the door in the morning with two matching socks. Disney’s influence over my daughter is ebbing, but not gone entirely. Meanwhile my son has assimilated himself into all things “dinosaur”. The pressure’s on. Don’t bother coming home if you bring us anything less than you did last year Daddy. You’d better be up to the task. So today, during my day off, I dug down deep and managed to produce this year’s offering:

The die has been cast. The ball is in motion. There's no going back from here. 2011

I’m locked in a vicious cycle now. Every year I have to top (or at least match) the year before, and I’m running out of ideas.

I can joke that the pressure is coming from my children demanding an ever greater performance from their father. But the truth is I love it, and I put it on myself. My kids probably couldn’t care less. But I like putting that extra “umph” into being a daddy. I want to be the dad that adds a little extra magic in his kids’ lives. As self-serving as it may sound, when my kids are engaged in a competition of who’s-daddy-is-the coolest on their playground, I know my kids probably won’t win, but I at least want them to get an honorable-mention.

I’ll keep putting that extra “umph”, injecting that extra little magic into everything I do as a father, because there’s nothing in this world I enjoy more than being their dad… even if that means I’m going to have to sculpt Rodin’s “The Thinker” in a pumpkin by the time my daughter is 18.

-Dork Dad

Nerd (Dork) Taxonomy

20 Oct

n discussions with a patient early this morning I began to formulate a theory. I postulate that there are two different subcategories of “nerd”. If we were talking taxonomy, there would be two different phylums under kingdom “nerd”: Nerdous Georgelucasicus, and Nerdus Fibonaccicus. If you are a nerd (or Dork as it were) there are HUGE implications associated with which branch you fall into. As it is my intention to raise three well-adjusted, socially competent, self-confident nerds (dorks), I would do well to have a clear destinction in my mind between the two subsets.

NERDOUS – GEORGELUCASICUS: Named for the patron saint of most modern nerds  (although insiders will tell you that due to recent bizarre behavior from said patron saint, a strong faction has lost “faith” and set up a new sub-subset, much like The Vatican II, under a new patron saint, Joss Whedon).

Call me a loyalist, but I just can't convert over to The Vatican II, even if my patron saint has gone cucoo.

These are the nerds with some pop-culture value. They waited in line for months on Hollywood Boulevard when tickets for the Star Wars prequels went on sale. They make the annual pilgrimage to the San Diego Comic Con every year (most in full-costumed-regalia).

My people... but NOT my people.

They proudly wear superhero t-shirts well into their thirties. They collect action figures and signatures from obscure cult movie actors. They have invested hundreds of hours in massively multiplayer online video games. They blog. In short, although they may be on the extreme end of “fandom”, they socialize – albeit usually with people from the same extremes that they live in, but they do socialize (for reference please see “The Guild”). And every once in a while Hollywood makes a mainstream movie about one of their favorite topics (Superman, Harry Potter, etc.) that gets non-nerds excited about the same things. This garners Nerdous Georgelucasicus some slight measure of pop-cultural authority, and thusly a small margin of social acceptability. The degree of Nerd(dork)-ness of this group can be measured by how far into the original Star Wars trilogy script an individual can recite from memory without making an error.

This is the subset I believe this Dork Dad lives in. This is the standard to which I will be training my children. For my money, I would classify Nerdous-Georgelucasicus as more of a “dork” than a “nerd”.

"Big Bang Theory"

NERDOUS-FIBONACCICUS: Named after an obscure mathematical concept that has absolutely no bearing on the day-to-day lives of normal people.

These are the pocket-protector nerds. They have absolutely no concept of modern fashion (or even last decade’s fashion for that matter). I once heard of an individual from this subset wearing his adult son’s 8thgrade band tie to work. The fact that it was so short it didn’t even make it to the bottom of his sternum (breastbone for the un-dorks) didn’t even give him a second thought. These are silicon valley engineers and university-level science professors who face the blackboard when they lecture because they can’t stand people looking at them. They spend more hours working with polymerase chain reactions and recombinant proteins in their research labs then they do actually

I'm sure I'm not related to anyone like this. (c;

TALKING to real human beings. They write with dry-erase markers on glass windows. They experience physical pain in social situations, as do the people they socialize with. When they do talk, the subject matter is generally so esoteric, so far over everyone else’s head it makes the person they’re conversing with wish they were back home watching reality television. The degree of Nerd(dork)-ness of this group can be measured by how many numbers in the sequence of pi the individual can recite from memory without making an error.

For what it’s worth I can go as far as 3.14159. By my definition, Nerdous-Fibonaccicus fits the more strict definition of a “nerd”, rather than a “dork” and I try to stay as far away from this as I can.

For those of you dads aspiring to raise dorks, rather than nerds (or Nerdous-Georgelucasicus rather than Nerdous-Fibonaccicus), please take heed. The social life of your children may depend on it.

-Dork Dad

Dorkdad’s tip-o-the-day: Smartphone Management

16 Oct

orkdad’s tip-o-the-day: Smartphone management.

We just happen to live in a place that is both beach-town, and incredible nature preserve (giant redwoods and mountain streams). Whatever it is we do on the weekend, more often than not it involves either water, or sand, or both. If you’re one of those people who feel naked without your smartphone in your pocket, but the odds of being burried in the sand on any given weekend are greater than most, I suggest you try this nifty little trick:

Just looking at this picture puts the fear of Steve Jobs in me.

Now I certainly wouldn’t reccomend going SURFING employing this strategy, but the old phone-in-the-ziplock trick is surprisingly more functional than you’d think. The bag is thin enough that it responds to the trusty old finger-swipe, and amazingly enough you can hear and speak through it quite well. The plastic makes taking pictures rather impractical, but if you’re anything like me and your iPhone is your best friend for capturing those impromptu moments with your kids (’cause who’s going to carry around an SLR everywhere you go?), this is a great way to slog through a mountain stream or build a sandcastle and still be ready to snap those fleating moments without having to worry about winning the cel-phone Darwin award, and thereby dropping more money into Cupertino, Ca. than you already have.

This has been a public service announcement. My name is Dork Dad and I endorse this message.
-Dork dad

DorkDaddy Daughter

16 Oct
ecause Dork Daddies have daughters too.

Saving the web address "" just in case.

-Dork Dad


15 Oct

.Y.S.O. stands for “All Your Saturdays are Ours”. At least that’s what someone told me once a long time ago. Well we’re in the thick of it now. At long last our daughter is in organized soccer and today was the 5th or 6th Saturday in a row where we had to be up and at ’em and on the field by the time we’re usually just tapping into the Saturday morning Starbucks.

There are times when my daughter is bullish on soccer, and times when she’s bearish. But the cold, hard reality is that soccer isn’t her thing. She does it, and seems to have fun while she’s doing it, but mostly she just likes getting dressed up in the uniform, cleats and shin-guards. When she’s out on the field she often gets caught up just watching the action, even as a scrum of 5-year-olds passes right by her trying to remember which direciton to kick the ball. It usually takes a well-projected shout of encouragement from her Dork Dad to rouse her from whatever record is playing in her head and remind her that there’s a soccer game she’s supposed to be a part of. “GO GET THE BALL, LOVIE!!!” screams an obnoxious part-time Dentist, part-time Dork Dad, full-time embarassment to Mrs. Dork Dad in a way that echoes off the foothills and makes all the parents on the other field glad their kids aren’t playing on this one. That usually snaps her back to the situation, and she suddenly revvs up the “fierce”, gets the I’m-gonna-get-you-sucka’ look on her face, sprints down the field and kicks the ball. Her job done, the “fierce” melts away as quickly as it came and she’s content to watch the other kids on the field play until her Dork Dad shocks her system with another overdose of encouragement. Her relative level of enthusiasm ossilates based on any number of factors including how much sleep she got the night before, how annoying her little brother chose to be that morning, how difficult it was to get her hair done as she poked at her bowl of cheerio’s, and whether Jupiter is in the house of Venus.

The I'm-gonna-get-you-sucka' face

Things did not bode well this particular Saturday morning. The drama was in full-effect. She was pouty and clingy, and generally wasn’t interested at all in getting out and playing with the rest of her team. But this is a team-thing after all, and as much as it’s about developing the physical skills, it’s also about learning what it means to be comitted to a team. So this Dork Dad made her go out there, despite her firm objections, when it came her time to take the field.

She was a little less connected than usual, but when her Dork Dad woke the dead with his “encouragement”, she managed to focus her annoyance at having to play at all into running even harder, and making her I’m-gonna-get-you-sucka’ face look even more intimidating. She managed to touch the ball once or twice and her mother and I were prepared to call that a victory for the day.

Now it just so happens that we’ve got a couple of ringers on our team. The coaches’ sons are little 5-year-old soccer prodigies, and they’re BOTH on our team. That, combined with the fact that today’s opposing team seemed to have absolutely no natural talent for anything other than chess and picking daisies and our little team started to run up the score. Now at this level it truly is all about having fun, and to their credit the coaches do an AMAZING job in that regard. There are no positions. Nobody keeps score. Everyone cheers no matter what team scores a goal. But things were rediculously lopsided today. When halftime rolled around my daughter seemed to have exercised some of the demons she woke up with, and her general affect seemed marginally improved. Orange slices for everyone, some quick pep-talking from the coaches, and the kids headed out for the second half with a slightly less annoyed Dork Daddy daughter on the field.

Then, a miracle occoured.

Maybe it was the talentless opposing team made up of future A.V. club and D&D club members. Maybe she was in the right place at the right time. Maybe Jupiter moved from the house of Venus to the house of Mars. But somehow, some way, the skies opened up, the clouds parted, the angels sang, a ray of light shone down on my little girl, the ball rolled in front of her, she kicked it…

…and it went in the goal!

When she turned around with a stunned look, as if to ask the parents cheering on the sideline if what just happened really actually happened, it took every ounce of will power this Dork Daddy had to keep from charging the field like a crazed hooligan after the game winning goal kick at the World Cup championships. I could almost hear the Ricky Martin playing in the background. When she finally realized that yes, that was an actual goal that she scored, the smile (missing a tooth in the front I might add) would have stretched all the way around her head if it could. I was so thrilled and relieved (that it finally happened) that I lost all semblance of self-restraint. I just couldn’t help it. My victory celebration on the sideline was shall we say, less than dignified. If it wasn’t clear at the beginning of the game to all the parents where my daughter got her “drama”, it was now. I didn’t care. My girl scored her first goal. Can I get an “AMEN!!”

soccer queen

After the game she was a different person. She asked if we could stick around so she could play soccer a little more. She took me and her little brother to an ajacent unused field and we kicked the soccer ball around, just the three of us, for another 20 minutes. When it was finally time to pack it in and head home she said to me, “Daddy, when I grow up I want to be a professional soccer player”.

Knowing my daughter, we’ll probably be right back into the drama next Saturday morning. But knowing my daughter I also know that that one goal made the entire season worth while.

-Dork Dad

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