I went to the woods…

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It’s like releasing a song, this first day of summer.

You can hear it in her eyes, wide and distant, dreaming. You can hear it in the hands, describing in the air all the things they want to do: We’ll build a teepee, a bow and arrow. No. We’ll climb that rock, that big one. And we’ll jump off, because why not? Ooh, and we’ll take a train, you and me, and we’ll crisscross the west until we see mustangs.

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It knows little of bank accounts or time, this song. It cares not for your schedules or your plans, for all the places you need to be. It rises, instead, from some depths where the rest of the year cannot touch, where sit down or raise your hands please or who knows the answer don’t exist.

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It keeps rising, this wild songdrift, and carries with it an almost visceral ache to do something with a year’s backlogged dreams of just doing nothing, and soon, if you’re really lucky, you find yourself humming along.

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The best last minute Father’s Day gift guide ever

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My friend Andy Hinds wrote an amazing and fascinating story in the Daily Beast the other day about “The Year of the Dad,” hitting on all the gains fatherhood has made in a pop culture that generally treats them like enormous, doofy man children.

Sell us razors and cars and we’re hip, sexy dudes with granite jawlines and an aura of international intrigue.

Give us a kid on screen or in print, however, and suddenly we forget about that sports car and somehow fuck up the kitchen making toast.

In other words, it’s totally manly to buy body and facial cosmetics. But whoa, get that kid away from me.

Please.

From pop culture, to science, to the workplace and home front, Andy’s piece highlights a hopeful movement toward a societal view of fatherhood that is more in line with what I see everyday with friends or online: caring, involved guys who want to be present for their families, whether they’re single, widowed, gay, straight, divorced, disabled, you name it.

Look, the pop culture dad-image fight isn’t the most important one out there, believe me. (Can we bring back our god damn girls yet or is our four-day window of interest over with? How about guns – can we maybe try something else now? And what’s with the #notallmen bullshit in response to the #yesallwomen campaign? What? Do you want a gold star for not being a rapist?)

But it’s an important one nonetheless, as pop culture’s view of the doofy dad has become reality for many families, a virtual permission slip to sit back and do little. It’s heartening to think that a change of perception might change many home fronts for the better.

One of the categories Andy spoke about dads making big gains was in books.

“Dad books,” traditionally considered a waste of pulp by publishers, have finally been making it past agents and editors and into bookstores.  
Indeed.

I’m a part of an amazing dad blogger community whose members have many books under their belt, and as Father’s Day approaches, I wanted to follow Andy’s lead and highlight some of the very best out there.

If you’re looking for a last-minute gift for the special dad in your life, you really, truly can’t go wrong with any of these titles. I’m proud to say I know these guys and have read their books.

So in no particular order, here we go. Amazon links included, because you can still get them by Saturday.

The Parents Phrase Book — My friend Whit Honea’s guide to talking to your kids about everything. I pull this off the shelf all the time to get some good tips about touchy subjects and new ways to approach them. It’s funny, witty, charming, and just plain even-keeled. Lots of good advice from a guy who has been there.

The Guide to Baby Sleep Positions – If you like the amazing web site How to Be a Dad, you’re going to love Charlie and Andy’s tome about the perils of co-sleeping. This should be handed out at hospitals to all new parents because it’s so spot on. Also, lighten up, you crazy yuppies.

Dad of AliveAdrian Kulp’s wonderfully written journey from working dad to stay-at-home dad. Bottom line: It’s hilarious. Anyone looking to take this same journey should use this as a guide. Love it.

Mommy Man Jerry Mahoney and his boyfriend want to have a baby, but biology obviously gets in the way. This is the story of a gay couple’s path toward fatherhood and should be required reading for America. It’s touching and heartbreaking and lovely and laugh-out-oud funny. A beautiful story for a beautiful family.

This is Ridiculous. This is Amazing — It’s parenthood in lists and it’s a gem of a book, an easy, funny read that will prepare you for everything from toddler attacks to all the new adventures you’ll take as a parent. Jason Good absolutely nails the energy level of parents vs. children. Love this.

Sugar Milk — From Today Show Parents contributor Ron Mattocks comes the story of a single dad, remarried dad, step-dad, stay-at-home dad — the whole gamut, really. It’s a touching, funny reminder that sometimes in life, life happens.

Dads Behaving Dadly — Love this compilation from some of the web’s absolute best dad writers from Hogan Hilling and All Watts, two mensches in the dad writing world. Seriously, if you’re having any issue or just want to see what a good friend might do in your predicament, this is the book for you — so many great insights from dads who just feel like buddies.

Bobblehead Dad – And speaking of mensches … Jim Higley hits it out of the park yet again. Everything is rolling along, life is great and then here comes the cancer diagnosis. I love not only Jim’s story but what he’s done afterward to help so many guys stay healthy. A must read.

Men Get Pregnant TooKenny Bodanis hit on the cultural quick with this one, as people are over are talking about whether it’s ok to say, “We’re pregnant,” considering only one of us actually is …. Bottom line, dads need to be prepared for the baby as well, and this is going to help.

Let’s Avoid Uncle Dale — The second in a series of read-aloud books from Dos Bad Dads, this one is an hilarious account of what to do with that … weird relative. And everyone has one. I love this series. You’re supposed to read them aloud to infants before they can truly understand what you’re saying. They get the benefits of hearing words and language, and parents don’t have to read another dopey hippo book. Love this. A great gift.

When I First Held You — I admit I was drawn to Brian Gresko’s anthology of dad essays only because it has Justin Cronin and Dennis Lehane in it. But I’m so glad I read more because there are absolute gems of the human spirit in here. Steve Edwards is a new favorite. Read more at Parade.

Confessions of the World’s Best Father – Dave Engledow knows tongue-in-cheek. These photos are absolutely hilarious. And Dave is one cool dude.

DadLabs Guide to Fatherhood — Listen to these guys. They know what they’re talking about. Another indispensable guide to a pregnancy and the first years from dads who have been there, done that, and know how to help in an honest, fun way.

Life of RonnieChristopher Routly wrote this semi-autobiographical graphic novel that, honestly, Emme absorbed. She just couldn’t put it down. And when she was done, she asked for more. I was so proud to have her read a book showing the journey of a young man toward adulthood from a great guy. You’ll get hooked, too.

The Art of Roughhousing — This is one of my all-time favorites: proof from a doctor that roughhousing is good for the body and the soul. Anthony DeBenedet breaks down the research on what the human touch can do for humans and why it’s so critical for kids and parents to get down on the carpet from time to time and just wrestle around and have fun. Still one of the best blog conference speakers I have ever heard, and I’m so thrilled he has a book you can bring into your home. Order this right away.

I know I’ve probably forgotten some people, and I apologize. I tried to make this as comprehensive as possible for anyone looking for a last-minute gift, but my brain is an addled swiss cheese ball now on summer break. Things are getting missed. But good god, we are having fun.

I’m bubbly and cheery damn it.

Hmmm, sort of unclear without an exclamation mark.

Hmmm, sort of unclear without an exclamation mark.

I’m a voracious reader. Anything with words on a page … I’ll read it.

Book club thinkers.

Thumb suckers.

Thrillers.

Non-fiction accounts of soup eating.

That pamphlet the Jehovah’s Witnesses drop off and you think, “Hey, this doesn’t sound so … no birthdays? Get out of my house. Get out of my house right now.”

But if I encounter an exclamation point outside of a quotation mark, I will literally throw the book across the room.

I’m not five.

I don’t need a highway sign that says, “This sentence is supposed to be dramatic! There is something exciting happening now!”

A good writer doesn’t need to hit the reader over the head with the idea that something dramatic just happened or is happening or is being said. F. Scott Fitzgerald said their use was as obnoxious as laughing at your own jokes. But I find them less pompous and more TV show cheesy — like the dramatic cliff hanger scenes in soap operas or Olivia Pope’s surprised face. They’re just laughably obvious.

There’s a popular local writer of crimey-noirish-Parisian-I-don’t-even-know-what genre. The books litter every book store I visit and I decided to give one a try. With no less than five exclamation points on the first two pages, I heaved the claptrap paper waste across the room and used a few exclamation points where they are supposed to be used: in quotes.

“This writer should get married in the Game of Thrones! Gah!”

I have such an aversion to exclamation points in adult literature that it surprises me to absolutely no end how many times I find myself using them in emails or on Facebook.

Thank you so much!

Of course I do!

Sure, I’ll go to the IRS audit with you and then the dentist! Because that sounds like a god damn laugh riot! Ha ha ha! LOL, mother fucker!

I’m a grown ass man with a few books under my belt — books I painstakingly exorcised of any exclamation points after an editor decided the first draft didn’t have enough, or any, of them.

And yet, I write emails and Internet comments like a 13-year-old Belieber who has been sniffing glue and chocolate sprinkles.

I don’t know what comes over me.

Maybe it’s the way emails can be misread, the way tone can be misinterpreted. Maybe I’m just a lazy ass who wants to rely on a highway sign occasionally instead of using context to build a friendly tone. Maybe I just go out of my way to be liked or don’t want people to feel I don’t like them.

An exclamation point is so lazy and so clear.

Come to my party.

(“It’s an invitation, yes, but it’s so flat. It doesn’t sound like a party. Hmm … maybe he hates me?”)

Come to my party!

(“I’m going to that raging shindig and it’s going to be fucking awesome!“)

And then … I read this story from The Onion, America’s newspaper of the grammar zeitgeist, and realized it’s a thing. It’s not just me. It’s a cultural phenomenon worthy of satire, this aching need to exclaim things in email and provide a bubbly sensibility for even the most innocuous occasions.

From The Onion:

Stonehearted Ice Witch Forgoes Exclamation Point

BETHESDA, MD—In a diabolical omission of the utmost cruelty, stone-hearted ice witch Leslie Schiller sent her friend a callous thank-you email devoid of even a single exclamation point, sources confirmed Monday. “Hey, I had a great time last night,” wrote the  cold-blooded crone, invoking the chill of a thousand winters with her sparely punctuated missive—a message as empty of human warmth as the withered hag’s own frozen soul.

It’s been painful, frankly, to transition away from the use of exclamation points, relying instead on words and cold, heartless periods to convey my messages.

While the avid reader who can’t stand exclamation points is relieved, the constant worrier wonders whether the proper tone is still conveyed, whether even the most innocuous email is now a glimpse into my withered, frozen soul.

OK, thanks.

See you soon.