Sure, Dad, you can watch me play–as long as you stay in the car

When my youngest daughter was four, we signed her up for a summer soccer program. The coach was wonderful, encouraging, supportive, and everything else a coach should be. He started each practice with some stretches and a run from one end of the field to the other. Young Zoe was quite shy and didn’t want to run so I offered to run along with her on the sidelines.

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Back away from that disinfectant: The case for letting your kids eat dirt

I admit to not keeping my house sparkling clean all the time (or even most of the time). And we’re big believers in the 5-second rule for food items that drop on the floor–unless the dog gets there first.

But I now have validation–from scientists at Harvard, no less–that a messy house might actually be a healthier house.

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Me and “Due Date”

Parenting specialist and author “Mr. Dad” shares his thoughts on Due Date, the R-rated comedy about a first-time father (Robert Downey Jr.) and his bearded test baby (Zach Galifianakis).



Armin A. Brott, who supplies our commentary on Due Date, has been hailed as the “superdad’s superdad” by Time magazine. Does he have a nightmare story similar to the hit comedy in which an uptight dad-to-be (Robert Downey Jr.) and a pot-smoking rube (Zach Galifianakis) with a masturbating French bulldog are thrown together for a disastrous road trip? “No, I can’t say I have one to rival the movie,” he says, with a laugh. “All three of my children’s births were relatively normal. There was, however, one C-section that scared the crap out of me because all of a sudden I was booted out of the delivery room and I had to watch through a glass door. I guess in a way it was similar to what Due Date’s director Todd Phillips (last year’s The Hangover) tries to do with Downey’s character. For a lot of first-time dads, there’s a bit of fear that you’re not going to be there for the birth, you know? There’s this feeling of, ‘I’m not going to make it!’ ”

Brott, whose book “The Expectant Father” (his first of eight bestsellers) described the emotional, financial and even physical changes men experience during pregnancy, started writing in 1992, inspired by the dearth of parenting resources for men. “For pregnancy and childbirth the focus is on moms, which it should be in a lot of ways,” says Brott, whose children range in age from eight to 20. “But dads don’t have to be excluded. Our transition to being a parent is just as profound as the mom’s. We have an entirely new life and worldview and there’s very little for us in terms of social support.”

These days, in addition to writing a syndicated newspaper advice column, “Ask Mr. Dad,” and running, Brott is hosting a weekly radio show called “Positive Parenting” which is broadcast in several major U.S. markets and in 177 countries on American Forces Network. He said he enjoyed Due Date, especially how it managed to touch on a number of issues associated with new dads. “It was a little like my book ‘The Expectant Father,’” Brott says, “but without delving as deep.”

THE PLOT “Due Date begins with a chance meeting — make that a collision — between Peter (Downey) and Ethan (Galifianakis) at the Atlanta airport and it goes downhill fast. [He laughs.] The guys are both traveling to Los Angeles, and because of an incident they’re thrown off their flight and have to drive across country. Peter needs to get home to his wife, Sarah (Michelle Monaghan), who’s about to give birth to their first child, and Ethan, an aspiring actor who just lost his dad, is almost like Peter’s trial baby. He needs to be reminded to ‘go pee-pee’ before they hit the road. He also carries around his dog, Sonny, like a security blanket.”

BABY NAMES “From the beginning, you can see Peter is nervous about the birth of his first child. The first shot of the movie is Peter in bed talking about a strange dream he had, some stuff about a bear taking his place in the delivery room. It’s one of several long, rambling voicemails he leaves for Sarah. There’s a scene where he asks, ‘Did you get my message?’ And she says, ‘I did. I’m about halfway through it and I thought I’d take a little break.’

“One of the things he’s eager to discuss is what they’re going to name the baby. It can be tough for a mom and a dad to come to an agreement. Peter is against gender-neutral names, like Casey and Tyler. He also doesn’t want to name the child after someone famous because it can end up being a joke or put a lot of pressure on the kid.

“Think about what it must have been like for Elvis Costello growing up. Or what if you name your child Martin Luther King Smith? What you’re saying is I like this person and I want you to grow up to be like him. You’re putting the kid in the position where he’s going to feel like he disappointed his parents or himself or the world at large, if he can’t live up to the expectations that go along with the name.”

PIT STOP “The scene in Alabama at the pot dealer’s house, where Peter is put in the role of babysitter while Ethan acquires his ‘glaucoma medicine,’ tells you how ill-prepared Peter is for fatherhood.
“What’s funny is the set-up. The dope-dealing mom (Juliette Lewis) is a horrible parent. She’s dealing weed out of her kitchen. I mean, what can be more irresponsible? Then you drop in Peter, who should be a contrast. It’s like anybody could do a better job of taking care of the kids than her! But you know what? He does even worse! [He laughs.]

“When Peter walks in, the kids are watching TV and he just sits down. He doesn’t know what to do or what to talk about and when he insults the girl, her brother, who’s maybe 9, hurls a toy at his head in retaliation. Peter ends up sucker punching the boy. You think, oh my god, if this is what he thinks you do with kids.

“What’s interesting is a lot of expectant dads go through this phase of looking at other kids. I mean, long looks at other kids. They’re thinking, what am I going to do with this thing? What am I going to do when my kid gets this old? So he probably should have taken advantage of having a kid around just to see what they’re like. What do kids do, what do they think, because he clearly has no idea.”

IS IT MINE? “The movie was really good at highlighting issues that come up for dads during pregnancy, and a lot of it was done in a funny way. For instance, there’s this fear guys have — and it’s a completely irrational one, most of time — that the baby is not theirs.

“At one point, Peter and Ethan stop in Dallas to visit Peter’s best friend, Darryl (Jamie Foxx), who is an athlete of some kind. He’s a very wealthy guy. Good-looking. As it turns out, Darryl used to date Peter’s wife, Sarah, in college and the two have obviously maintained a close friendship. On Darryl’s coffee table is a picture of him and Sarah having a good time, sharing a mai tai or something, in San Diego. Darryl says the picture was taken in February, which Ethan pointedly remarks was nine months ago. Throughout the scene, Ethan is picking at the whole thing, insinuating that Sarah and Darryl may have exchanged more than just emails in San Diego.

[Spoiler Alert!] “What the director does here, rather nicely, is articulate the fears that many first-time dads just think about. One of the funniest moments is toward the end of the movie when Peter barges into the wrong delivery room. That had to be every guy’s worst nightmare.” [End Spoiler Alert]

DADDY ISSUES “After a run-in with a paralyzed Western Union clerk and then having to sleep in the rental car because Ethan spent nearly all of their money on weed, Peter dumps Ethan at a rest stop. He takes off in the car and he’s not coming back. Then he looks down and sees the coffee can that Ethan has been toting around with his father’s ashes. I thought it was one of the most poignant scenes in the movie. Peter stops on the freeway and he’s going to discard the ashes but first he starts to say this little eulogy and there’s a moment when he probably begins to think about his own father, who was absent, and how important a father is in someone’s life. Ethan’s dad was important to Ethan so Peter goes back. I thought that was a well-done scene.

“There’s this process expectant dads go through of examining their relationship with their own father. They think about how it’s going to affect, in a positive or negative way, their relationship with their own kids. Nobody gets away without thinking of this stuff. So that’s a whole other piece to the movie. It’s about both ends of fatherhood: becoming a dad and then what it’s like to lose a father.

“Peter and Ethan’s relationship is troubling. During the trip, Peter is shot, arrested and has his arm broken. But the guys somehow end up as friends, very good friends. I’m trying to suspend disbelief, but I’m not completely sure I buy it.”


Mr. Comfort

Dear Mr. Dad: I work pretty long hours and love playing with my 2-year old daughter as much as I can. But whenever she gets hurt or upset, she screams for her mommy. I know she’s not deliberately trying to hurt my feelings, but it still stings. Is there some way I can comfort her without needing to get my wife involved?

A: You’re absolutely right to try not to take your daughter’s behavior personally. And it’s great that you’re not giving up. Since your daughter spends more time with mom, it’s perfectly normal for her to have designated mommy as “the one to go to when something’s not right.” She’s probably put you into a different role: “playmate.” That said, it’s still important that you learn to help her—and that she learn to accept your help.
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When Mom Really Does Wear Combat Boots

Dear Mr. Dad: You’ve written a lot about dads in the military, but I’m in the opposite situation—my wife is a deployed Marine, and I’m at home with the kids. I’m feeling completely overwhelmed. What can I do to support her and keep myself—and the kids–sane?

A: First of all, thank you both for your service. With women making up about 11 percent of deployed servicememebers, you’re not alone. Here are a few ideas that may help.

  • Don’t fill your e-mails or phone calls with complaints or tell her about problems she can’t do anything to resolve. You’ll just frustrate her. But don’t paint an overly rosy picture either—she’ll get suspicious that you’re covering something up.
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Explaining the Unexplainable

Dear Mr. Dad: I am a single mom of a 14-year-old daughter. Throughout much of her childhood I suffered from severe depression, which went undiagnosed until very recently. I’m getting treatment now, and I’m feeling much better. However, my daughter thinks I was pretending to be sick all those years. That really hurts, but how do I explain to her what was really going on?

A: What a difficult situation for both of you. I get a sense from your letter that she either doesn’t know that you were depressed, or simply doesn’t understand what depression is. Or both. As a result, she believes (mistakenly, of course) that depression isn’t a “real” illness and that it’s “all in your mind,” or something you should be able to just snap out of.
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