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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.

Teachings of a Three Year Old

Robert Manni - Wednesday, October 05, 2016


I foolishly thought that raising a little boy would become much easier after the terrible twos had run their course. Boy, was I in for a surprise.  The third year brings new layers of complexity to a child’s growth. Witnessing this phenomenon can be exhilarating, eye opening, and downright confounding. As toddlers grow they become more grounded, layered, interesting, and unique. Just like little people!

Here are some personal observations and what I’m learning as my son enters the second half of his third year.

The transition from age two to three - When kids are one or two, they are the ones being jostled and pushed on the playground, but things change when the kid turns three. Toddlers stand firmer as they develop a sense of ego and self. By the time they’re three, the roles change and parents now need to watch that their kids are nice to the other kids. That means “kind hands and feet”.  I think the transition is easier when a child receives lots of love at home. Another thing that stands out for three year olds is how the mental and verbal skills begin to sync up as the kids talk more freely and start communicating using more expressive language. As this occurs we hear random, unrelated comments and answers to the many questions we ask them. Over time, kids pull it together, but what stands out for me is how much they hear and already comprehend regardless of how challenging it is for them to verbalize what they’re thinking and feeling.

Pre K3 - The goal for our son in school this year was socialization. There are a lot of “only” kids in NYC, so during the many transitions it’s been comforting to know that we are not alone. Many other parents face the same challenges when socializing their kids. That said, for a confident kid with an outgoing personality, Pre K3 can be a bitch. For all of our direction and talk about “kind hands and kind feet” the transition from a small, intimate daycare environment to joining a group of twenty new kids can be challenging. My son has a confident, friendly personality. When I’ve dropped him off at school he goes up to almost every kid in his class while we are waiting outside. He always has a big smile and does his best to engage with all the other kids. Unfortunately, although he eventually finds another kid to hold hands with and walk up the stairs together, some kids are shy and they hide behind their Moms and Dads when my son approaches. I just hope he does not get discouraged and always maintains his confidence and friendly ways when he grows up. The world can always use more loving, positive personalities.

Still cleaning up – One glaring routine about parenting that is rarely discussed the amount of time parents spend cleaning crap up. Little kids are so random and sloppy. Anyone who has kids has spent a number of years of their adult lives bent over picking up toys and assorted items that their kids tossed aside. Sure, this comes with the territory, but had I never realized how much actually time I would spend picking up after the little one. No wonder so many parents are tired. Speaking of… 

Relentless energy – This was another major surprise for me. My son is up at 6am and keeps rocking non-stop until 8pm. In fact, he would play and entertain himself until he passed out if we didn’t set a bedtime routine for him. Thankfully, he loves his bath and bedtime story, and most nights he sleeps like a rock until morning. 

Tantrums – Another surprise. As the little guy gets a better sense of his personal power, he occasionally throws a major fit over seemingly insignificant issues. My son’s pet peeves are centered on our traveling around the city. For some reason he strongly prefers the B train over the C train and he insists on sitting by the smallest window on the train and the bus. “The little window” is mission critical for him so I frequently have to scramble onto the train or bus while moving at breakneck speed so I can claim our magical seat by the “little window”. My son has had a few major-league meltdowns on NYC’s crowded trains and buses, so if you’ve heard a toddler screaming bloody murder on the C train it may have been us weaving down the aisle in search of the right seat. Sorry about that. Now I know what other parents go through.

Consequences – If all this sounds like my three-year old has been running a game on me, it might be true in some instances, but I have a weapon. A strong, powerful psychological weapon called “consequences”.  It’s when parents take something away from the kid when he’s acting up. If he throws a tantrum on the train, there are consequences. No Thomas the Train video. No ice cream. No pizza. No play date with his homey. You get the picture. And, “consequences” work like a charm. As soon as my boy hears the word, he immediately pays attention and behaves. But, he’s no dummy. Now he asks for what he calls a “positive consequence” when he does something right. Fair enough. So if he follows direction and does something right, he might get a positive consequence. This might come after the successful completion of…

Potty time – How long should it take for little people to learn how to pee or poop? A pony doesn’t need instructions. Neither does a duck, a goose, or a turtle, but humans are slow to learn in this area. So parents develop patience and also frequently clean up some more. By now my son has good aim though. I can’t tell you how many times I have held my son up over the toilet in a public bathroom, but I am eagerly waiting for him to grow tall enough to be able to pee into the bowl on his own. Patience, Dad, patience.

Unconditional love and trust – Beyond the grousing I do about parenting and the investment of time spent paying constant attention every minute we are together, there is something my son has taught me that is more valuable than gold. It’s his unconditional love. No matter how a bad day he’s had or if Mommy or Daddy or his teacher chewed him out, he always, always, always wakes up in the morning in a great mood. He never stays pissed off or holds a grudge. Every morning he is filled with smiles and brimming with love and affection for my wife and me. He is one happy kid. Thank you, son, for teaching me the importance of forgiveness, gratitude, and unconditional love. What more can I ask for?

This week’s GUY”S GUY of the WEEK is my son, Sky Manni. He is my teacher and I thank him for all of the lessons he has and will bestow on me. As we say to each other every night before I lay him down, “I love you, Sky.” “I love you Daddy”.

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.

My First Father's Day - What My Son Has Taught Me in 5 Short Weeks

Robert Manni - Friday, June 14, 2013


My Dad just celebrated his 88th birthday.

To me, he’s the original Guy’s Guy. He taught me about love, family, women and work. He’s been a shining example of being a real man and I thank him for his kindness, wisdom and generosity. My new son, Sky, is five weeks old today. I’ve quickly learned that like my Dad, my son is also my teacher. So, in the spirit of Father’s Day, here are my Guy’s Guy musings on what my little man has already taught me in a few short weeks.

Patience – This is an understatement. Having spent most of my adult life as a self-absorbed, ego-driven selfish lout, it’s taken me a long timeprobably longer than mostto learn that life really isn’t all about me. I have renewed respect for my younger male friends who became fathers during their twenties and thirties. I started later and I’m glad, because frankly, I did not have the patience necessary to deal with an infant, their randomness and their directness. Even though I caught Sky in the delivery room, he’s understandably been all about his Mom, and my mother-in-lawwho only speaks to Sky in Korean. Are they forging a deal I need to know about? I wait patiently for him to give me a big smile and let me know I’m his Dad.

Paying Attention – My wife gave me a good lesson in this key behavior when we were dating and just when I thought I had passed the test… enter Sky. He insists that I focus all of my attention on him, keep track of the detailslike warming that bottle upand take the initiative for building a lasting bond with him. If not, he will ignore me or cry. I am on point at all times and Sky knows it. Good for him.

Parenting - Whether it’s always keeping him clean or applying his butt paste, I have an endless punch list of ways I can help my wife take care of my son. I assemble and look after the caravan of stuff whenever we take him out for a stroll in the park. He is the last thing I see at night and first thing in the morning, and I never know what’s going through his head. I just do my job and help out as best I can. It’s the least I can do.

Persistence – Since babies are all about need, he lets me know in no uncertain terms when he wants something—food, a change, a hug, a walk, whatever. And he keeps going and going. I’m not one to ignore an infant’s cry. How can I? He only knows one way to let you know that something is wrong. So I try different ways of addressing his need until I find what works. He’s training me well. Bottom line, like all babies, Sky’s engine runs 24/7 and he let’s me know exactly what he wants without any trace of subtext.

Perfection – All of this points to the perfection in babies. They are pure love. You can see it in their eyes. It brings me joy. It keeps me hopeful. Thank you, Sky.

This week’s Guy’s Guy of the Week is my Dad, Serge Manni. Thanks for everything. I hope I’m living up to your example of how to be a man.

What are you thankful for this Father’s Day?



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