Friday, May 14, 2010

Mr. Mom

This isn't fiction, it's a goddamned documentary

So, last September when I got laid the hell off from Palladium, I'll admit I felt a little bleak. I hadn't lost a job since before The Wife and I were married way back in '02, when I got fired from selling Harleys because I liked motorcycles too much. Anyway, as I stood there in my hallway staring at my phone trying to process what had just happened, my brain shifted on down into survival gear. Well, to be honest, first it shifted into "crawl into a bottle of Wild Turkey and listen to a lot of Hank Williams" mode. Then, as I struggled through the five stages of grief and helped an Austin Nichols exec make a boat payment, and after I dealt with, "Fuck, I'm a freelancer again!", I had a little epiphany. I had a baby on the way, I was a writer, I work from home, I'm good at multi-tasking and staying work focused, I keep long hours, I'm not necessarily opposed to bodily functions...I was going to be Mr. Mom!

See, what you should know about me gentle readers is that I'm already pretty domesticated. I do the lion's share of the cooking since I love food and I may as well use that degree for something. As for housekeeping, well, when I can be arsed I scrub a mean counter and polish a mean floor Hell, I'm not sure The Wife even knows where the laundry room is, and our house is all of 1,400 squares, so you know it's not hard to find. So yeah, I figured that since I'm good at keeping writing and housework balanced, along with keeping the cars and bikes running and maintaining a seventy-year-old house, that I'd be able to just slot babby in there no problem with just a little re-arranging and keep on truckin'.

Yeah, yeah. Laugh it up parents. No, go ahead, get it out, catch your breath. I'll wait....better? Right, I know. I know now, that it's easier said than done. In my short, two-month tenure as Nervous McNewdad, I've had my eyes opened to just how time consuming and labor intensive new babbies can be. I mean, I knew, right? I've got a bunch of nieces and nephews that I've watched grow up so I know that they take a lot of work, but I didn't understand. It's hard to keep up a steady workflow when you need to feed/change/burp/bounce/sing to/entertain a little, mostly helpless person every three or so hours. Hard to keep that continuity, you know? Combined with other stresses, like work piling up and the constant, steady creep of deadlines, other things that need doing going by the wayside, no sleep ('cause I'm writing at 03:00 instead of sleeping), dealing with the emotional fallout of being new parents, well, lets just say that it makes the atmosphere a little charged at The Ranch.

I will say however, that The Wife and I are handling it better than most. My unique position as professionally unemployed a freelancer/journeyman cum stay-at-home dad allows me to take a more active role in the parenting, which helps take the load off The Wife. Between the two of us, we make up one good parent. My biggest problem right now is trying to balance everything out. I've got something like three concurrently running contracts with Fantasy Flight right now for both Rogue Trader and Deathwatch. I've got to bone up on Savage Worlds and my old flame Deadlands so I can do a writing sample for Pinnacle. I need to get back into my quickie know-it-all essays for Demand Studios cause that's easy money right there, and Lord knows with a new babby and a bunch of ancient cars and bikes and a house that was built in the victory garden and commodity rationing era there's never enough money, easy or otherwise. All of that, combined with trying to, well, grow my brand for lack of a better term by writing and shmoozing and emailing and blogging and tweeting and linking-in and all that other stuff that pretty much equates to me standing on my little corner of the internets holding my poorly written "Will write about spaceships for food" sign, well, there just aren't enough hours in the day.

Now, I'm not complaining. Well, I'm sort of complaining, I admit. I'll tell you what, though. Being a dad suits me. I like it, I like it a lot. Even when she's being a huge pain in the ass, which thankfully isn't that often, the kid is still great to have around. I couldn't be happier with her. Well, maybe if she'd come already potty trained that would have been extra sweet. Anyway, I know it's only been two months that I've been a dad, but I'd like to share some advice with any freelancers or prospective stay-at-home dads out there with babby on the way.

  • Work: If you're gonna work from home, you need to straighten some things out first. Sit down with your wife/babby-momma/significant other/platonic life partner/co-parent/whatever and have a chat about distribution of responsibilities. Make it clear that your work is every bit as important as theirs is, even though you do it from home in your jammies and they go away to an office. Set down some guidelines about standing watches, as The Wife and I call it. Guidelines that say who gets the babby when, and when one or the other simply needs to be alone in a locked room to get any work done. If this involves making child-care arrangements, so be it. You're not a bad parent just because you have to clear the decks and get a little peace and quite so that you can get work done.
  • Communicate: Seriously, this should be obvious but you'd be surprised. No matter how strong a marriage/life-commitment is, there is a shit load of emotional fallout that comes with having a babby. Make sure y'all aren't holding wants, needs, desires, frustration, or any other emotions inside because I guarantee it will completely wreck you. 
  • Get. The Hell. Out: Seriously. This goes for freelancers who don't have kids and it's doubly important for journeyman dads. Have a place away from the house where you can go and relax or get a little work done sans kids/partner. I've got a couple comfy-ass coffee houses that I go to. They're staffed by handsome young women, feature excellent coffee, hot and cold running internet, and, if I'm not working too hard, make for some excellent people watching/chatting up the regulars. This is super important for home-bound workers. Remember what happened to Jack Torrance? The last thing you need is to be chasing your partner and kid around the house with a fire ax because you've been staring at the same words/monitors/walls for a month straight. The cops frown on that shit. 
  • Communicate: Just sayin'...
  • Nail Down a Schedule/Work Regimen: You're never going to get anything done if you have to do everything. Prioritize your work. Make sure you're getting regular meals, regular showers, regular walks, and regular you time. Don't work all the time, all it does is hurt the quality of your work as you get more and more burned out.
  • Get Thee to a Therapist!: Now, I don't want to make this into a very special episode of Motor City Gamewerks or anything, but seriously. Know how I mentioned that emotional fallout? Post-partum depression isn't just for moms anymore! Journeyman parents, depression is no joke. Trust me, I know. Having a babby stirs up all kinds of shit, shit you didn't even know was in there. If you feel like you need help, get help! My therapist has been an enormous help and comfort during the past two months. I don't like to be evangelical about getting your head shrunk, but I'd recommend it to anyone. If you're not into therapy or can't invest the time or money just remember, you're not alone. With a little legwork I'm sure you could find some stay-at-home working dad support groups in your metro area. Whether in meatspace or on the internets, just being able to piss and moan about new-dadding over a few beers or a round of Left 4 Dead will do you worlds of good.
  • Stay Gold, Ponyboy: On a related-to-psychological-health topic, journeyman dads, make sure you don't stop being you! If you gamed or mountain biked or did metal work or baked artisan bread before babby, make damn sure you keep doing so after babby. Hobbies are there for a reason, they keep you sane and act as a pressure valve. Don't think for a minute that you need to drop everything and seal yourself off from the world just because you drafted a new member on to the team. I'm not saying that your schedule isn't going to tighten up a little. What I am saying is that it's important for you to keep involved with your friends and activities after you have the kid. It's related to getting the hell out. You know what throwing your old life away, not calling your friends, and staying at the side of the bassinet 24/7 leads to? Resentment. Resentment leads to anger, anger know where this is going. Finally...
  • Communicate: Y'all saw this one coming a mile off, didn't you?
So, there. *gets off soapbox* This is what works for me, and things that I think are important. As with any advice, your mileage may vary. If you want to be there for your kid and your partner, you have to be there for yourself. Don't feel guilty about working, do stuff you like, make your needs and feelings known, get out in the sunshine now and again, and enjoy being a dad.

PS: Any other journeyman parents out there? I realize that this is a pretty dad-centric point of view and my experiences are, well, unique to me and my worldview. I'd love to hear from other freelance moms and dads here. Leave a comment, tell us a story, let us know how you're holding up.


Mikey97D said...

Good Post Jason!
2 months went quick! I'm still reeling on my end with the two munchkins.
Definitely need to keep up on hobbies and you time. I've actually have lacked off on me time cause I don't feel comfortable taking away from the household. It's been since Thanksgiving the last time I rode. I'm hoping to get out next week sometime to change that.

Levi said...

Good post Jason. I'm still 4 months away from having my first chid, but I was already considering some of these things. It's hard to find the time for my hobbies now, it will be harder in a few months.

EvilTwinBrian said...

Not long after my first son was born, I was "between jobs", which meant I had to spend a lot of time updating my portfolio and resume, but I was nowhere near as prepared as you seem to be. I didn't even think about trying to balance being "Mr. Mom" and trying to find gainful employment in the wonderful world of graphic/web design, so there was a lot of stress. I wish you were blogging about this 10 years ago (although I would have just giggled at the word "blog" and went about my merry way without reading it).

Also, I want to say that I heartily agree with the therapy section. I didn't even know I needed help until I got it. stuff just seemed to fall into place easier after I started seeing a therapist.

Anonymous said...

By Jack...


Great post, Jason. It's always nice to see that moment when the reality of parenthood sets in. No other thing in human existance can make your life so wonderfully miserable or miserably wonderful. Great, ain't it? :)

My issue is on the other end from yours: I work a full-time job with commute from hell, so I get less time with John than I want, except fridays where I telework and in the same boat as you.

Taking time to do something for you is very important. I kept up with Aikido and managed to finish my blackbelt and I still try to squeeze writing in, though it's not to the level that feeds that angry beast eating its way out of my brain every moment...anyway.

It's still totally fucking hard. I'm so far behind on house/yard that I'm afraid I'll lose my man license (thank god there's no HOA). Both my cars are overdue for basic maintenance. I haven't rolled dice since the '09 open house.

But would I trade it? HELL NO. I love John so much. Every day he does something new and different. Every day he says a new word or makes a new connection and I know that he is truly my Magnum Opus. There's no comparison to it.

Jason, welcome to it. You've made that first step of realising all that preperation you thought you'd made was inadequate and all your planned work-arounds are pointless. Now that you've committed to diving head-first into that pool of icewater you can start swimming the painful craps set in. But you'll be fine and I know you'll be a first-class dad. The only person I pity is that first boy who shows up to take babby out on a date. ;)

Levi: you and Jill will do awesome! Don't worry about psyching yourself up. It won't do any good. Just dive in head first knowing it'll be painful, but oh so worth it.

A. Ringia said...

Autumn just hit 18mo yesterday, is talking a bit, runs amok, potty training, doing 18mo old things. I commute an hour each way, Erica plays rollerderby (and is a co-captain of the travel team) and practices 4-5 days a week, works 1/2 time for her dad (and brings Autumn to work), runs two online stores, screen prints. We (I) do the dishes about once a week (if we're lucky), laundry about once every two weeks, clean the house (only if someone is coming over), go climbing at the local gym once a week, are both on meds, and supplement with wine. Oh, and I still manage to hit the forge and the shop on a pretty regular basis (see Somehow.
And the last word is: Damn but she's a cute little bugger.
Thanks for the post Jason!