Monday, June 28, 2010

My Father's Day Surprise

I was confused…really confused. These were my wife’s instructions:

1) Be ready by 10:15 am.

2) I am leaving at 9:30 am.

3) I will call you to let you know what to do next.
4) I will tell you what to wear.
5) Do your hair, but bring a hat.

6) It would be preferable if you wore sandals, but I know how

much you “love” them. If you must wear sneakers, bring sandals.
7) Be prepared to have fun for your Father’s Day Celebration!

They were pretty vague instructions. I’m no stranger to my wife’s elaborate plans as she often organizes fun adventures for our special occasions. She calls them family team building days. What can I say…she’s very creative. We’ve had a lot of team building activities since we’ve been together.

I’ll be honest. Normally, her excitement for these days is transparent and I can decipher our adventure well in advance. It’s like when we play hide and seek (yes, we still do that). I can usually hear her giggling from across the room. The anticipation gives her away every time.

I usually play along and act surprised when the appropriate time comes. I think she appreciates that. Later she’ll ask if I knew and I’ll gently let her know that I may have figured it out. This time, she perfected her poker face. I remained confused until the last second. However, she was kind enough to drop some subtle hints:

She asked me to find my Yankee jersey…

Are we seriously going to the Yankees-Mets game? That would be amazing!

Just to make sure, I later asked her who the Yankees were playing…she had no clue.

She told me to bring a bathing suit and a towel.

We must be going to the beach or maybe a water park. That would be really fun!

Then, I started to second guess myself. These must be decoys.

As the day finally arrived, I remained baffled. At 9:30 am, she left in the car without me. I was convinced it was still part of her game. Thirty minutes later, she arrived back at the house. She wasn’t alone. There was another woman with her.

I was told to put our son in my car and follow her. After some unexpected traffic, we arrived at our destination. It was a familiar childhood place – Keansburg Amusement Park. Keansburg was a place my grandfather took me as a child. My fondest memories are of the bumper cars, which haven’t changed in over 25 years. I vividly remember the time when I was unexpectedly rear-ended and decided to jump out of the moving vehicle to run to safety with tears rolling down my cheeks. It wasn’t my proudest moment.

As my wife got out of her car, she quickly walked ahead holding a big sign. She turned around to show me. Before I could fully comprehend the situation, a crazy thought went through my head…

Holy sh*t, she’s pregnant…and this is how she’s telling me. Why is this other woman here?

As I approached the sign with my son at my side, I could read finally read it: “Happy Father’s Day” had been written on a poster board in her feminine hand-writing – a heart dotting the exclamation point.

(Still baffled at this point).

OK…she’s not pregnant. But, why are we at Keansburg?

As I turned around, the other woman had pulled out a professional looking camera and was snapping pictures.

“Surprise”, my wife said. She had hired a very talented, up and coming photographer, Nathalie Zaro, to document my Father’s day with my family. She nailed it. It was the perfect gift on the perfect occasion. I can’t think of a better way to spend my day.

As we walked through the amusement park, past those very same bumper cars, I fondly reflected on my own childhood memories. It seemed a lot bigger then, but it still holds a piece of my innocence. On my Father’s Day, my wife gave me the opportunity to share that with my own son.

He rode the rides, as I once did, with a smile plastered from ear to ear. I couldn’t be prouder or happier. I remember those days when nothing mattered. Life was full of excitement because each new day brought a new adventure and a new challenge. As we get older, the trick is to embrace those days when they come because they can be hard to recapture.


I became a father well before my son was born, although, perhaps I was not considered a father in the traditional sense that is recognized by hallmark. In 2002, I adopted my first dog – my first child, really. Since then, I’ve added, acquired, and even lost. My Father’s Day would be incomplete without valuable time with our dogs.

My love of our dogs is pure. There are no mixed emotions. There aren’t even temper tantrums. They eat whatever food they are given. They wag their tails with a simple glance in their direction. They are happy to see you whether you were gone for 2 minutes or 2 weeks. There is one emotion with dogs – love.

Our two dogs are an intricate part of my son’s life too. In addition to companionship, they provide valuable lessons on how to respect all living things. He loves them unconditionally. In return, they have accepted him into the pack, with the added perks of slobbery kisses. If they could talk, they would say that he’s one of us. He’s known no life without them.

Thus, after prying my son from the rides at Keansburg, we visited our local beach with the dogs – a place where they have spent many hot summer days swimming in the bay. With the sun still shining brightly, I stood in amazement as my family enjoyed the simplest of life’s treasures – being together. My son threw sticks for his brother and sister as they swam in and out of the water. He laughed as they shook the water off their backs. They gave him wet kisses. He ran down the sand and into the water with them, swimming away from the sharks he saw on Diego. We truly were a family.

The simple things in life become the greatest memories. These are the things I want my son to appreciate. And as I look back through the thousands of pictures taken of my family on Father’s Day, I will remember our happiness.

Thank you, Trish. You got this one perfect.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Mamas and Papas

I just boarded “Thomas” and kissed my boys good-bye for five days. Five days. One. Two. Three. Four. Five. I’m already crossing them off of my mental calendar, the way I used to as the end of the school year approached, or the holidays drew near. Today is day one.

It’s never easy to leave my family, but I try to focus on the positives:

  • For the next few days the only person I have to feed, clothe and put to bed is myself.
  • I don’t have to make my own bed or fold my towels.
  • I am still passionate about my career and realize that if I have to spend time away from the people I love, I am blessed to spend that time doing work that I love.
  • Most importantly, after this week, I’m on vacation for 10 days! We’re not going anywhere and we have no concrete plans, but spending all that uninterrupted time with my family sounds perfect!

While I’m away, predictably, well-meaning colleagues will ask about my son. I’ll tell them he’s great – he’s smart, funny and perceptive! Then they’ll ask, “Who’s caring for him while you’re gone?” I will say, “My husband!”

The response often includes something similar to, “Wow! You think you’re husband can handle that for five days?!” To which I respond, “Um….yes, my husband can certainly handle it – in fact, he can handle it better than I could!”

The reality, however, is that this week will not be without challenges! It’s likely that my husband will take my son out to eat this week. It is also likely that the restaurant will not have a changing station in the men's room. It’s also possible that my husband will want to take my son to story time at a local bookstore or library. It is also pretty possible that the story time will be called, “Mommy and Me”.

So, while I’m working to positively influence the socio-cultural norms that continue to influence women's lives, my husband will spend his week being influenced by the gender biases that continue to negate the power and influence of fathers. I will be on Capitol Hill with fifteen young women, discussing the impact of health policy on women and mothers and my husband will be home, fighting a grassroots battle to shift expectations and assumptions about family roles and, more specifically, the role of the father and husband.

And….secretly, I will struggle with my own internal conflicts – those of my identities as a mother, wife, and professional. But, after a moment of emotional torment, I will take a step back. I know that these identities are fluid – always changing and evolving and trying to challenge a world that says that I cannot have it all – that I cannot be all of these things. I just don’t buy it. When I look at my family – joyful and grounded, respectful and appreciative – I see a world of possibilities. We define the terms that shape our identities.

I am a woman. To break that down into more specific categories is a daunting task, as I am many things and on any given day, one part of that identity may be more prominent or influential than the others.

This week, one part of me is a mama that will live in envy of the fun my family will have without me. I will miss smooches and giggles and big books about trains (or spiders…or dogs…or ocean animals). I will crave little boy cuddles and big belly laughs. I will miss my husband, who always provides perspective when I’m feeling overwhelmed or conflicted.

But, I will not worry. My family is in very capable hands - the hands of a man who is generous, patient, funny and strong - a man who won’t allow a tiny detail like the absence of a changing station in the men’s room or the name of a class deter him from embracing the part of his identity known as, “Dad”.

Happy Father's Day!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Update for the Play Date...

The date for the play date has been chosen for early next week, but there is still time if you want to be included on the evite. I had originally intended to choose a date this week, but to accommodate as many people as possible, I pushed it back a few days. If you want to join us, please email me for the details:

As of this writing, we already have 28 attendees. There may even be a special surprise for those who can make it. We really look forwarding to meeting all of you. The stories you have shared have been remarkable and inspirational. Keep them coming!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Time to Take Action - an open invitation to all!

I want to thank my wife for her inspiring and meaningful words. They speak volumes to many of us, who struggle with expectations in life. It takes courage to break down accepted social norms and pave new paths based on sincere thought, emotion, and reasoning. This is how she lives her life. The most pioneering people have always challenged the accepted way and pushed for change. Perhaps I should listen to her more often!

This past weekend, I had the privilege of being the best man in my best friend’s wedding. As he and his (soon-to-be) wife stood at the alter ready to devote their lives to one other, the Priest delivered a very powerful message that echoed my wife’s sentiments. He stated that the two most important acts in life are committing yourself to another and creating life. His take home message was simple: life and love are sacred - all else is superficial.

Of course his message may have been an over-simplification of life, but it still rings true. As I look back through my life, my happiest moments are all derived from the love of my family. Many of these times have been while I’ve been unemployed. My true happiness doesn’t come from a job or the money I earn. A job may provide a certain sense of satisfaction or accomplishment. It may even instill some pride. But, can’t I get those things elsewhere? Money doesn’t change the most important and fundamental aspects of life – love and family. At the end of the day, that’s all we have. What good are the extras in life if we can’t enjoy them with the people we love most?

It’s been said that a job is considered a way to earn a living. But, is that what we are doing? Do we earn life by working? For me, the answer is obvious. I don’t need a job to earn a living. I appreciate the intangibles. I love my family. This is how I “earn a living”. For many of us, we take jobs that pull us away from our lives. We sit in traffic. We get frustrated by coworkers. We are under-appreciated by our bosses. A job is no way to earn a living. It is merely a means to a living.

One day soon I will go back to work and I will have to reconcile my struggle. I will need to balance my job and my family. My true happiness will suffer. It shouldn’t be that way. As my wife said, I shouldn’t have to cram my life into nights and weekends. The best trick I can pull is to carve out a new norm that allows me pursue a career in line with my values.

Until that time, I want to embrace the moments of my true happiness. I implore all of you to do the same. This is our chance. It’s time to take action and start something. For everyone reading this, let’s start slow and simple. Together, let’s venture back to that place where our job was to play in the summer sun and run through the sprinklers – let’s set up a playdate next week with our kids! Here’s an open invitation for everyone reading this. Let’s get together and spend time embracing these moments of LIFE with our families!

I know of a great place (in Central Jersey) that’s fun and most importantly FREE! I especially invite my unemployed readers and stay at home parents. If you have a job, take a vacation or sick day - play hooky and join us! Invite your friends. The time is now.

For those interested in attending, send me an email ( and I will add you to the evite. Details will be included.

I look forward to seeing you then!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Pursuit of Happiness

From time to time, A Life Unexpected will bring you guest blog entries. Today’s entry was written by my lovely and talented wife, who offers a unique perspective as the spouse of an unemployed person. Often times, the spouse is overlooked, but it’s important to remember that unemployment affects everyone. During my unemployment, she has handled a difficult situation nearly flawlessly. She has been an incredible source of inspiration. I encourage everyone to show your support and leave her a comment or even email us at:


A Guest Blog by Trish aka Hungry Dog Heaven

It was 2007 when my husband finished his PhD. For years we had been patient, understanding that after all of the long hours of schooling and scraping-by on my non-profit salary, we would reap the rewards of stability…

Also for years, my own job with a national organization had been subject to the perils of a struggling economy. I had been working without any support staff since December 2006. In March 2009, in an effort to reduce organizational overhead costs, I agreed to close our New Jersey office and moved operations to our tiny beach bungalow by the bay.

I took conference calls in my pajamas. I did laundry while writing grant proposals. I snuggled with our dogs while creating training curricula and started dinner in-between sending and receiving emails. There were some perks, for sure.

Then the economy really started to take a turn and the state funding for my husband’s post-doctoral fellowship was not renewed. Then…he was unemployed.

This was last August.

Since then, working from home has taken on a different feel as I take conference calls locked in my bedroom, praying my colleagues on the other end don’t hear my son in the background. I repeatedly fight my mama-urge to throw open the door and swoop-in with healing smooches and comforting cuddles when I hear him crying. My bed does double-duty as a desk on days when it is too hot to work in my make-shift office in the attic.

There are days where I crave the peace and structure of an office – to remember what “normal” life was like. Life before this life - this life of uncertainty and fear and chaos and doubt.

But…there are other days. Days where I take a lunch break with my son at his kiddie-sized table. I read him books about ocean animals as he eats alphabet-shaped tater-tots. I run out to get a glass of water and am able to steal a quick kiss from my two favorite guys. I can hear them outside playing – throwing balls, laughing, squealing….living!

Maybe this is the life we’re supposed to live. A life with little means, but full of heart. Maybe we don’t need a bigger house. Maybe we can make things work. Often, I think…I don’t want this to end.

When my husband returns to work, our house will be quiet again. Our son will return to school. I will be able to take conference calls with ease and we will be on-track – working towards that life for which we had been longing. We will be back into the routine of the working-world. The world where we see our colleagues more than we see each other, where our son sees his teachers more than he sees us and we rush-around trying to squeeze the most into our limited time together.

I think, perhaps, I’m on the brink of a perspective shift. Why do we need a bigger house if, in order to afford it, we have to work so hard we’re rarely there to enjoy it? Why can’t we take this experience and turn it upside down? Why can’t we say that this time, this time of economic uncertainty, was the time that changed our life for the better? We can do that, right? When life hands you lemons…

It’s challenging – reconciling dreams lost and being bold enough to carve new dreams out of current realities. The fear of failure is palpable. The stress of uncertainty is oppressive. But, the reality is that the dreams we had when we were in our twenties do not have to be the dreams we work to fulfill in our thirties and beyond. They are our dreams – to be achieved, dismissed, dismantled and reassembled as we please.

My dream is for us to be happy. To laugh loudly without apology. To embrace the joy in the little things – the wind in our hair, the sun on our face, the smell of the seasons. Life gives us the ability to be happy!

I’m shifting perspectives in pursuit of this happiness and the thing is, I think we’re there. We just need to be brave enough to hold onto it.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

I thought it was me

After losing my job (again), my confidence was shot. I wasn’t good enough, smart enough, experienced enough…you name it, I felt it. “Failure” sums it up pretty well.

Being unemployed, it’s hard to even face people sometimes. It’s hard to simply look them in the eye during a normal conversation. Are they judging me? Inevitability, that question is always asked: “What do you do?”

Normally, I try to avoid the question or talk my way around it. In fact, I’ve gotten pretty good at it. Can I add that skill to my resume? I often try to keep my conversations short with new people so it doesn’t come up. However, most times that question just can’t be avoided because it is often the first thing asked after an introduction. It’s only natural to ask what others do. Sometimes it is conversation filler. Sometimes it can be more probing. Sometimes we are truly interested, or not. In many ways, we judge people by what they do.

How are the unemployed judged, especially by those who have never been unemployed? As a member of that distinguished class, I am probably not the right person to answer that question. On the flip side, I can say that no matter the situation I always feel judged for being unemployed and it is hard not feel ashamed. I’m told that I should not feel embarrassed because most of those things are just “out of my control”. I like to think I am in control of my own destiny…that the things I do mean something. The reality is that I am ashamed. Can I do more to help myself? Should I volunteer more? Can I even do more? Should I just do something…anything?

So, when people who don’t know that I’m unemployed ask that question, it just adds to my embarrassment. I either have to explain it or talk around it, which can be awkward. And it’s not their fault for asking either. It just is…

However, today I had a bittersweet chance to feel a little better about myself; a chance to regain some of that lost confidence. I received an unexpected email from my successor at my previous job. We’ve never met, nor have we ever interacted. I only knew his name because of a passing conversation while on the job. I learned that I got the job over him in the first place.

The email reads, “I saw on some papers that you may have worked here before. I can tell you that it is a very different place to work than any that I have worked for. My last day here is this Friday because evidently, I am not the perfect candidate either…..”

After a few short weeks on the job (which I’m sure also included a ton of unfulfilled promises), he was let go. That’s two people hired and let go in a span of four months. He reached out to me because I have literally been in his position. I know what it feels to have the world in front of you, only to have it unexpectedly ripped away.

Perhaps they are looking for a particular type of employee and we weren’t the answer. Ordinarily, I would agree that there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s important to find the right fit for both sides. It’s equally important to be given a legitimate chance to succeed. This never happened. A clear pattern has emerged. What’s the point? Why waste our time?

The company was sold to me as a tight-knit family, especially since they only have a few employees. Was that just a bill of goods? In reality, I feel they only considered the “professional worker” and not the whole person. Maybe they are a family, but then I must have been the black sheep. And so must have my successor.

But, I am not just a professional. I take pride in my work, but that is only one part of the whole. I have a family to support. I have bills to pay. My life is not their trial. As a “family” company, that’s what they don’t get. We are not toys to play with and discard when bored.

Since I received that unexpected email today, I have felt completely conflicted. I may take solace in the fact that losing my job may have been beyond my control. It’s a little clearer now that I may have been a true victim of the fabled “it’s not you, it’s me” syndrome. It really might not have been me. I’ll take my small victory and move on. However, another person lost his job. It’s a sad day.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

It's like we never left

Days like today make it seem like we never left at all. After a fairly seamless transition back to NJ (thanks to my friends and family), we’ve settled back into our house nicely. It’s still small. There’s still a strip club (or two..or three) down the street. But, it’s our home. It’s the house where we started our family – memories of Charlie and Moose are woven into the fabric of these walls. It’s the house where we started with mismatched furniture. It’s where my son took his first steps. He said his first word on the living room floor.

Everything here is familiar...even predictable. I know the people at Dunkin Donuts. They know my son likes chocolate munchkins. I know the man down the street doesn’t own a shirt. I know the mail comes at 11am. The postman knows where my house is despite the crazy neighborhood numbering system.

After unpacking most of our things, we stepped right back into the flow. Perhaps, the short stay in PA was more like a long, often twisted, vacation. It never truly felt like home, but then again it wasn’t supposed to. The apartment was temporary. I never even fully unpacked.

There are things I’ll miss about PA: the extra space, the serene environment, the lack of traffic, the affordability of our dream home…even the people were polite. If given a chance, Pennsylvania may have eventually become familiar. It may have even become my home.

Today was a beautiful day. It wasn’t beautiful just because of the weather. It certainly wasn’t beautiful because of the broken down truck and hotdog van outside of my house. Today was beautiful because of how it felt to be home. As my son and I took our morning stroll along the bay, I decided to take it all in. I felt like I could see for miles. It was so clear. The sound of the seagulls…the crash of tide…the smell of the water…all have the distinctive feeling of “home”. We didn’t get days like this in PA.

Today was beautiful because of the joy of being with my family…of being with my son. We didn’t do much. We mostly played silly games in the yard. My son threw the ball for our dogs. He giggled and chased after them. He asked them to lie down so he could sit next to them and pet them. I could feel his joy.

On days like today it’s clear - maybe this is where we belong.

Lastly, on a side note, I had a tremendous email response for my last entry. There are so many of us in a difficult situation. It was a pleasure emailing with each of you. Your support is amazing. I hope I helped as well. Above all else, it is especially nice to know we are not alone. So…keep it coming! Let’s hear more from you. Leave me a comment on facebook or on this page. Feel free to continue to email me:

I look forward to hearing from you again!