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On Life, Love and the Pursuit of Happiness

On Being A Dad

Robert Manni - Thursday, June 15, 2017


I thought the task of being an older dad would be easy. More life experience, more patience, more self-acceptance. I was wrong. Being a dad is not an easy task, but the job has become more and more fascinating with each passing year.

Since I only got married seven years ago and never pictured myself as a father, when my wife got pregnant I wasn’t sure how to feel or what to expect. Regardless of all the books I’d read on the subject (none) or the classes I took (none) to help me face the mysteries of fatherhood, I knew I’d be in for lots of surprises and priceless life lessons.

I consider my wife the smartest person I know, so thankfully I’d have someone who knew what they were doing at the wheel at least during infancy. I thought I would step up once the kid was ready for little league. That was selfish and dumb, and it didn’t turn out that way. I’ve been totally immersed in fatherhood since the moment I caught my son in the delivery room four years ago. I thought I’d learn about being a dad along the way, and as a result I made my share of miscalculations and blunders. Yet my wife tells me that overall, I’m a good dad. Here’s a snap shot of how the first few years have played out and the key takeaways I’ve been gifted since my son was born.

Year one was all about eating, sleeping, pooping, and crying. Mom and son really bonding here, folks. Sure, I wiped his butt, changed diapers, etc., and did my best in taking a load off my wife, but a powerful connection was forged between mother and child during this critical first year. Year two was less intense and highlighted by movement and awakenings. First he crawled, then he pulled himself up, and finally he stumbled a few steps. He still ate, slept and pooped a lot, but so do I, and now he was mobile and demonstrating his distinctive personality traits.

I was under the assumption that half of his personality would be like me and the other half like my wife. Wrong. Although he shares our strong personalities, he is, and has been, his own little person from the get go. He began showing more of his willful personality during year two. I noticed how focused he was and how he never let go of something once he got locked in. He was developing his likes and dislikes. During this time, he walked, even ran a bit, and smiled a lot.

My wife and I are big readers, so we read books to him and like magic, he connected with the stories we picked out. And like most kids, he wanted us to read him the same books over and over again. I don’t know what it is about Goodnight Moon that hits the spot with kids, but they love that book. At two, my son also loved The Giving Tree along with the many Dr Seuss books. There are so many great kids books that stimulate a child’s imagination and I highly recommend devoting ample time to reading to your child. It makes a difference in how they develop their imagination and process language. We only allow gentle videos, like old school Disney films as a reward for taking his nap and having a good day at school. By the time my little guy turned three, he began waking and getting out of bed on his own, and slipping out to the living room where he could be found each morning flipping through stacks of books on the couch.

Socialization can be tricky for toddlers. My son has always been super upbeat and friendly, so he has no anxiety and makes friends easily. During years two and three he evolved from being the victim to occasionally being the perpetrator, or the one who pushes at the playground. But that was a short segment that most kids go through. Over a short time, he developed a natural empathy for others and learned how to quickly make connections with the other kids. Now he talks to adults, kids, neighbors, strangers, and animals. I’ve never seen a kid so comfortable in his on skin. This outgoing and friendly behavior will serve him well in life. During his threes, he also developed a penchant for art, drawing pictures, and playing cards and board games. Unfortunately, due random circumstances, he was forced to attend three separate Pre K 3 schools in one year. But it’s worked out and he has his sights on moving to Pre K 4 at a bigger school in the fall.

Overall, year three was about transitions. I’m proud to say that he handled all the changes like a champ. And like a true New Yorker he has friends of all races, creeds and cultures. New York City has its drawbacks for raising kids, but it also has the parks and activities that provide a wonderful environment for opening young minds. Now, our little guy is four. He knows what he likes and does not hold back on letting anyone know. He picks out his clothes. He tells us what playground he wants to hang in, and he knows that if he doesn’t take a nap he’s not getting a cookie or a video.

Parents are the first mirror for a child, but teaching works both ways. With the help of my wife, I am learning what approaches work best while I attempt to elicit the desired response from my child. That means getting him to listen up and do what I need him to do when I ask him. Anyone who knows me or has worked with me knows I’m a get-it-done, task-oriented person. I do my thing and allow others to do theirs. All I ask is for people to pay attention, be present and do their job. Kind of like Bill Belechik. Unfortunately, that’s football and business, and not how things work with kids, especially with sensitive souls like my son.

When I ask him to do something-- like follow me to the bathroom so I can brush his teeth before we head for school-- he often ignores me. This type of situation is commonplace and can become tedious. Being an unschooled dad, I used to get upset in these situations, and it backfired. My son picks up on my energy, so if I don’t project the proper tone in my voice, he would run away. What’s the answer? Watch what my wife did. And she uses blackmail. So, now if he ignores me when I call to him and he does not respond, I tell him there will be no cookies or videos in the near future. And it works. Now he listens and, at least usually, comes running by the time I count to two. I’m also reprioritizing my schedule and making sure that I am more present when I am with my son. I fight the urge now (and usually win) when it comes to not taking out my phone on the bus or subway. I realize how lucky I am to have the time to spend with my little boy. When I was a kid my father traveled constantly, so I’m making up for those absences of quality father-son time while I have it.

So, what is fatherhood all about if not teaching your child about the world while learning more about yourself and life at the same time? Sounds about right to me. I highly recommend becoming a father to any guy who is ready when that special opportunity comes their way.

This week’s GUY’S GUY OF THE WEEK is my dad, Serge Manni. He recently turned ninety-two and has lived an amazing, full life. I can only hope I’ll do the same and also be a shining example of how to be a man for my son…even if I’m still learning.

5 Lessons I've Learned in Five Years of Marriage

Robert Manni - Tuesday, June 16, 2015


If life is like a box of chocolates, then marriage is a pizza pie. Every pie has the same basic ingredients, but you and your partner add distinct flavors and spices. I married later than most. In fact, I was single so long that on holidays my family stopped asking me when I was getting married. I was a happy bachelor. Although I shared a few live-in relationships and learned a thing or two about love from my partners, nothing prepared me for the commitment that comes with marriage. Maybe I’m old school because I could not ask for a woman’s hand in marriage until I was absolutely certain she was the only one for me. It’s been five years now and the time has flashed by like a blur. I’ve been up, down and all around in this short period of time and I’m glad I was lucky enough to wait for the right person to come into my life. And I was even luckier that she said yes.

I know everyone has a different experience in marriage. Some succeed and just as many fail. I also acknowledge that I am no expert, and much of what I include in this post may seem obvious to some. But here goes anyway. These are my lessons learned from five years of marriage, Guy’s Guy style.

1. Everyone is different. When you live with someone, over time you get a first hand perspective about their habits and how they roll. My wife has two masters’ degrees and is arguably the smartest person I know. So, at first I was surprised to learn that she loves to kick back and wallow in reality television and those hideous real estate fixer upper shows. And unfortunately, most of this drivel is on at the same time as my beloved Yankees and Knicks games. I usually skulk to my office and work on the computer. I never imagined such an intelligent person would consume this trash TV, but I’ve learned that this is simply her way to relax. Sigh. This is an example of how couples learn about and then deal with minor, but potentially annoying differences in lifestyles. Over time, I’ve adjusted my attitude and my routine, and once or twice I’ve even sat through “The Housewives of Beverly Hills”.

2. Change can be a good thing. To a certain extent, we are all creatures of habit. When you're single, you come and go as you please. You sleep in when you want to, watch movies until the earlier hours of the morning, and basically do whatever the hell you want to whenever you want to do it. And in a city like New York, that can be interesting, to say the least. After a few months of marriage though, you factor in how your behavioral quirks might affect your partner. So, over time, you realize that going out for a meal and drinks at 2AM is no longer such a great idea. You adjust your schedule to sync with your partner’s, and if you're a guy, it’s not a bad thing. Although I have always stayed in shape, my bachelor lifestyle was not the healthiest. Late night drinking and binging on bad food and falling asleep in front of the television were not conducive to a healthy lifestyle. Now I’m in the sack by midnight and I wake up in a good mood after a restful sleep next to my wife. And, she doesn’t even steal the covers.

3. Kids basically blow up your lifestyle. Holy shit. I had no idea that having a kid would create such a drastic change in my day-to day existence. Kids gobble up your time and continually up the ante. Just when you think you’ve got a routine set, they shift into a new phase of unpredictable behavior. And when they are young, you can never let them out of your sight. Man, that can be tiring. For a longtime bachelor, this has been a sea of change that I totally underestimated. Kids really do change everything. The good news is that you will never feel more unconditional love from another human than you do from your child. It’s a beautiful thing, and I had no idea.

4. Don’t take your partner for granted. Once you’ve been married for a year or so it’s easy to settle into a routine. Don’t do it, especially if you are a guy. Guys fall into patterns of comfort quickly and it’s easy to take what your partner does for you for granted. Big mistake, amigo. Big mistake. Marriage forces a lot of guys, myself included, to man up and stop being such selfish a-holes. I’m a work in progress, so as I evolve from a knuckle-dragging Neanderthal into a Guy's Guy, I at least make sure to tackle an increasing number of mundane tasks so my wife doesn't have to do them. When I was single, I could ignore most of this stuff for weeks, but now I am a table-clearing, dish swishing, vacuuming, garbage hauling, laundry loving, recycling, sheet changing, waste basket emptying, poop cleaning, diaper changing machine. I seek out and destroy every boring-ass menial job that comes along so I don’t leave them on my partner’s plate. It’s the least I can do for her.

5. Never stop dating. You know what I mean, and it’s easier said than done. When you’re married and have a kid, you’re pretty burned out by the end of the week. It’s hard to pull a real date together, and too often I find myself sprawled out on the couch next to my wife watching Bill Maher on Friday night instead of going out for dinner and cocktails. For now, since our little guy is a toddler and we are older parents, we regulate our “date time” to weekend lunches or earlier dinners with the little guy in tow. I guess that’s romantic in it’s own way, but I know I have to do more.

Those are just a few tidbits from what I’ve learned in five short years of marriage. I know I’m glad that I enjoyed my single life and I’m glad that I decided to wait. I also know that I need to keep improving, but at least I’m making progress.

This week’s Guy’s Guys of the Week are my parents, Serge and Carole Manni, who recently celebrated their sixty-fifth wedding anniversary (That’s a tough act to follow!). And of course, my lovely wife, Uni. God bless them.

Teachings from a Toddler

Robert Manni - Thursday, November 06, 2014


Time flashes by. It’s hard to believe my young son is already eighteen months old. As any parent of a toddler can attest to, the job of raising a child is both exhausting and exhilarating. As a long time bachelor who never considered children, I scoffed when my friends told me having a child changes everything. They were right. It’s a whole different ballgame and hopefully it has made me a better Guy’s Guy. While I’ve witnessed my little boy learn about the world, I’ve also learned a lot from him. Here are a few things I’ve picked up by observing and tending to my son.

Life is discovery and learning.

It’s so refreshing seeing a young one interact with things for the first time. Whether it’s trying a new food, hearing a fire truck, or seeing a big dog or a little girl with flowing blonde hair, I’m continually amazed at the sheer joy children glean from what adults consider uneventful daily occurrences. Just a few minutes ago I watched my son play with a hanger for ten minutes. He picked it up, tossed it, dropped it, pushed it and basically milked the life out of it before leaving it on the floor so he could hide in my closet. When we’re outside he’ll pick up a leaf from an oak tree and carefully examine it like an astronaut who just landed on a strange planet.  He constantly reminds me about the wonders of our world and little things like fresh fallen leaves that adults take for granted. Maintaining one’s innocence and sense of wonder is important to keeping fresh and staying young at heart.

Get your hands dirty.

Like radar, toddler boys gravitate to nature and the earth. My son loves trees and bushes and wading through leaves that crunch beneath his feet. As we walk he picks up random broken tree branches, blades of grass and leaves and he’ll stop to scrunch down and play with each item until he’s gotten whatever joy he can get from it. Then he picks up the next thing in his path. There is something about little boys and their fascination with nature and getting their hands dirty that reminds me to roll up my sleeves mindfully dig into whatever I’m doing.   

Practice makes perfect.

My son has a stack of books. When I ask if he wants me to read to him, he carefully pores through the pile and makes his first selection. I pull him onto the couch and read aloud. He seems to always pick the same books, never bored with hearing me read each again and again. I must have read, “The Runaway Bunny” aloud over one hundred times. He points to the illustrations and says, “Caw”, his current word for everything. I’ll respond, “moon”, “cat”, “fish”, “frog” or whatever before he turns the page. Then he points to the same images again to be sure he knows the word. And he’s learning. When he places his finger on the illustration of a window, I’ll say “window”. Then he points to the window in our living room and says, “Caw”. He gets it. Repetition sounds boring, but it’s good for learning. Think about it next time you’re in that language, dance, or cooking class you thought would be so easy.

Routines can be good.

Let’s take repetition a step further. My son, and I think all toddlers, prefer routines at this early age. When you are new to the game, there is a comfort in knowing what comes next. Mommy gives you a bottle in the morning. Daddy tests you with flash cards when he feeds you dinner. You grab your shoes when it’s time to go out, and so on. I’ve noticed that when his routine gets changed up, like with daylight saving, it takes him a time to adjust. But within a few days, he settles back onto his groove. Adults like the comfort of routines also, and there is nothing wrong with a little predictability during chaotic times.

 

Leave the baggage behind.

My son is endlessly curious. He wants to examine anything he has not seen before. And that’s good. Recently he’s been obsessed with a deck of cards in a plastic case wrapped with a rubber band. I knew that as soon as he got to those cards they were destined for the floor. And sure enough it happened as predicted. I finally took the rubber band off after watching his sad little eyes peer up at me again while holding the case. When I took off the rubber band and handed him the case, I could see the delight in his eyes. Then the cards tumbled onto the floor.  After a quick glance at the cards, he cheerily marched off with the plastic case. He had no interest in the cards. And, of course, toddlers don’t think about who cleans up the mess, but that’s okay. Every time my son moves on from his most recent object of desire he reminds me not to put too much value on things or emotions. It’s better to leave our baggage behind.

Maybe I’m connecting the dots a little too conveniently to suit my point of view, but I know I’m learning as much about myself that my son is about the world. Thank you, little man.

Have you ever taken the time to learn from little kids?

 This week’s Guys’ Guys of the week are the growing number of stay-at-home dads who unselfishly devote their time to raising their children.


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