Full Circle

I used to have a battered cardboard box that contained the evidence of my youth. A period that not only seems a lifetime ago but a span of years that as an adult I have tried hard, with limited success, to distance myself from.

bury my heart
Seemed like a good idea at the time.

In this box were dogeared photos of youth wearing unfashionably outdated clothing that were complimented with similarly unforgiving hairdos. There were report cards tattooed with the red ink of numerous teachers swift pens. Awkward drawings of dinosaurs and athletes as well as the scattered seeds of a future poet written on double lined paper. There was video footage of my father in Thailand during the Vietnam war and a much younger version of myself in diapers on the Air Force base back in the States just to name a few of the items.

Just before discarding the artifacts I took one last look through the box. I discovered a graduation card from my father that I had overlooked upon first glance.  By the time the card had been written my parents had been separated for nearly six years.

“You’re the man of the house now,” he told me one sunny afternoon while my siblings and I cried and pleaded. From our perspective it came out of the blue but in hindsight it was a rather obvious destination for my young parents marriage.

I opened the card and read it.

My advice to you is to find a job you enjoy doing because you will be working for the rest of your life.

Sage advice from a man who spent the better part of his life working in factories in Sidney and Harrisburg.

I realized today while folding laundry that I have in fact taken his advice. For the last five years I have been a stay at-home father. It is similar to other occupations in that there are good days and bad days. But it is different from most occupations in regards to a number of aspects.

034To begin with I love the people I work for. I mean that more than words can express. It’s perfectly alright that my 10 year finds it necessary to thread chewing gum around her fingers which are dangerously close to her long curly hair while I write this. That does not diminish my love. Nor does my screaming 1 year old who is hollering simply to see how much volume her little body can produce. I swear I saw a potted plant start to vibrate off a book shelf when she started yelling.

Another thing that may be a bit different is that I spend my sick days and vacation time with the people I work for. They see me early in the morning with sleep still in my eyes and late at night when even a cup of coffee can not prop open my drooping eye lids.

They see me twist like a pretzel and breath while I do my morning yoga routine. They hear me exhale loudly when my favorite team loses, again. They see the twinkle in my eye when I flirt with their mother and I can’t help but chuckle when I see them want to melt from embarrassment.

I chase the people I work for with a vacuum cleaner during chores because I think their reactions are funny. I recoil at the amount of earwax that is harpooned from their ears after a bath. I teach them how to cook and how to stand in the batters box and face a fastball. I tell them jokes that sounded funnier in my head and laugh at their jokes though at times they lack a good punch line. I give them advice they don’t want when they need it least and simply hug them when they need it most. 040

I have begun to realize of late that I have been very fortunate in this journey through existence. I met and married an amazing woman who values having a parent at home while our children grow up. As an individual who has never enjoyed clocking in for an orthodox 8 hours I have been very lucky to have the ability to be on call 24/7 instead.

It has not been an easy path, but then again, what road is not filled with obstacles at some point? The true blessing I suppose is that this is a route of my own design.


When Dad Homeschools

I was recently asked to write about being a father who homeschools his children. I have been rolling it over in my mind for days now. On some level there is little difference between myself and homeschooling mothers in regards to the daily struggle and success involved. We probably both find ourselves staring in bewilderment at the organized chaos taking place around us. All evidence would suggest we both survive on coffee and pray for the occasional opportunity to use the restroom without a child pleading their case with the door wide open. How is it that the bathroom in our home has turned into a Federal courtroom where accused toy and candy thieves try to stack the jury in their favor?

Most likely we both stare at the dark ceiling of our bedroom in the early morning hours wondering where the immediate energy of youth comes from as we hear distant sounds of children leaping from one piece of furniture to another in the yawning light of dawn. I feel pretty confident that we both find crayon murals on our window sills, balance dishes and laundry between mathematics and wonder where the time went as we stare at the aftermath of a long day cleverly disguised as piles of toys, pencils and socks.

On the other hand I do believe there may be some slight differences worth writing about. Just as homeschooling mothers face obstacles I lack the experience to address there are circumstances unique to my situation. Truthfully they may even be results of a homeschooling father living in a rural area because I do wonder if fathers teaching their children at home who happen to live in a city have the same experiences as I do.

There are positives and negatives. Let us start with one of the perceived negatives though so that we can end on a good note. For me personally the feeling of isolation is a major obstacle both creatively and emotionally. Now the interesting thing is that my isolation has not really had an impact on my kids socialization and I say this for those of you considering homeschooling or who are new to it and still buy into that myth.  I will give you a recent example. My two oldest children recently started taking ice-skating lessons. I took my kids to the first two lessons. Though I smiled and attempted to engage the mothers who would approach my kids I was largely ignored. On the third lesson my wife took the morning off of work and joined us. She was in turn approached by other mothers wanting to know which child was hers. Conversation was easy. Interaction was safe. Now of course these were the same children I had been showing up with for two weeks but there is some sort of social taboo in my neck of the woods that does not allow married male/female interaction to take place as readily. Now I realize that that may seem like a very small and insignificant situation to some but when you multiply this by every social situation whether the library, kids sporting events, dance classes, or any number of organized homeschool field trips it leaves one feeling isolated. That is not to say no one speaks to me or avoids me altogether  but there are no real relationships being developed. Luckily my children do just fine. They laugh and play and learn but I spend a lot of time alone.

The really interesting thing is that some of my strongest relationships and most trusted support networks have developed over the internet. In an attempt to find pen pals for my two oldest children I eventually found a wonderful family from southern Australia whom we interact with somewhat regularly. The friend who asked me to write this is from the U.K. I have even had the good fortune to interact with a homeschooling author who really inspires me. Although not in my immediate vicinity these are very important relationships to me. A network of support is important in any aspect of life especially when it comes to the education of ones children. I suppose the positive twist is that those relationships really expose the true value of homeschooling not only for the children but for the parent as well. Though barriers exist in my own community globally speaking I have been able to find individuals and families who are more interested in the pursuit of truth than social taboos. Further I realize those same minds must exist locally it is just a matter of locating them.

Now with that said I have always been comfortable with myself. I can spend large amounts of time reading and meditating simply put daydreaming. But it is always nice to know that if you need to interact with someone you can and that has been my biggest obstacle as a homeschooling dad.

My life is far from gloomy though. It is too hectic and too entertaining to be anything but wonderful. Though I go weeks without a haircut or shave and I rarely know what day of the month it is I do have the amazing opportunity to watch my children grow on a daily basis. I am so blessed to see the spark behind their eyes as knowledge from the days lesson takes root. I imagine what it would be like to be an astronaut or a dinosaur with young minds. I wipe tears and put Band-Aids on cuts too small to see. I dig in muddy creek beds in search of crayfish and salamanders. I comb hair and put in crooked ponytails. I color with crayons and introduce Neil Young on vinyl to my kids. I have barrettes put in my beard while I work on social studies activities. Most importantly I listen when they ask the serious questions in life,

“Where do we go when we die?”

“Why was that man yelling?”

“Why are your teeth so yellow dad? Don’t you brush?”

Though some aspects of a homeschooling father are unique overall I would humbly suggest that it is an extension of parenting which finds its common ground in the bizarre, unscripted situations that can only arise with the developing curiosity of youth. Though my family and I are no different from any other family in that facet we are entirely unique because of that fact.

Tobias Whitaker also blogs for Mother Earth News and Grit Magazine.  You can also find him on Facebook at Seed To Harvest: Bossy Hen Homestead which is a central location for his homesteading blogs and his homeschooling blog, A Mile In Her Shoes: Tales Of A Stay-At Home Dad .  

It Goes Without Saying. . . .


Parenthood offers a scope of the world rarely glimpsed by those without children. Certain day to day rituals become major productions testing the boundaries of nurture verses nature. One does not even have to leave their own home to experience the bliss of raising children.

Let us start with the bathroom. The calming warm showers that prepare us for the day ahead suddenly become ice cold waterfalls. Many a parent has felt the last warm drop of water fade as they peer out of the curtain with a head full of conditioner, one eye shut tight from its stinging blindness as a child presents their case. Problem is their speech is inaudible due to the water hissing upon the clammy shower curtain. A rushed exchange takes place and the child of course runs away leaving the door wide open and all the cold air in the house comes rushing in.

Keeping with the bathroom theme, there are few acts that leaves us as vulnerable as using the bathroom. Sit down with a bare bottom and suddenly your bathroom becomes a scene from “Night Of The Living Dead” as children pound zombie like on the bathroom door. In a frail attempt to reassert your authority you bark orders from your porcelain throne but it is in vain. No one listens to a king with their pants around their ankles. Worse yet is when you realize the roll of toilet paper is soaking wet in the bathtub from some failed experiment and you are forced to summon your child with increased volume and urgency as your cries are met with deafening silence, hoping against all hope that they will awaken from the hypnotic glare of the television on the other side of the house and rescue you with a fresh roll. Time is of the essence in these situations.

Moving along to the kitchen where your shoe will randomly stick to the linoleum due to hours old orange juice on the floor. Scissors will be covered in honey, cakes will be stripped of their icing like iron ore from the earth and delicately put back as though nothing occurred, cereal boxes will be put back in place with a single cheerio in the bottom of the box and plastic eggs from your childrens kitchen set will replace fresh eggs in the fridge (luckily fresh eggs were accidentally found in parents sneakers under the bed). Cookies miraculously disappear from cupboards at alarming rates while dinner plates of healthy food are found in the garbage.

This of course leads into breakfast, lunch or dinner taking place in the dining room, a room where children hang from their chairs like performers from Circus du Soleil. Entire cups of juice are guzzled before the table is set or better yet simply spilled across its entirety. Bargains are struck for dessert or desertion whichever comes first and inappropriate jokes rule the meal.

How about the living room you say? The room where children leap from couch to chair in a single bound, where hockey pucks sail dangerously close to windows and the deep creases of furniture hide the wrappers from Halloween candy and smuggled goodies in the wee hours of the morning. The room where the Lawrence Welk show eerily plays in the background while children wrestle and fight over a toy neither of them really wants.

Then there is of course the bedroom, where tears flow as though youth are being condemned to an eternity of hard labor. Deals are struck to stay up a little later only to be renegotiated when the lights finally go off. Pajamas are the straitjacket of the wild naked child, a Tarzan like character that leaps from dresser to bed declaring independence from all things parental. Like a scene from the Shawshank Redemption the older children stand vigil while the youngest commandos free of their bedroom chamber and sneaks to the bottom of the stairs blending with the shadows only to emerge while the most inappropriate portion of the movie boldly displays itself upon the television. Horrified eyes of parent and child meet.

I know what some of you are thinking. You are making this up. You are embellishing. Others are thinking why not step out of the house and allow that youthful energy to burn off. I will explain why. Your children will color the insides of their nostrils green and black with markers, they will soil themselves, they will argue to wear t-shirts in the winter and jackets in the summer; they will hide your car keys and quickly forget where they were stashed.

Where else in life can one find such lovable characters?  These are by far the most interesting and entertaining years of my life.

Tobias Whitaker also blogs for Mother Earth News and Grit Magazine. You can also find him on Facebook at Seed To Harvest: Bossy Hen Homestead which is a central location for his homesteading blogs and his homeschooling blog A Mile In Her Shoes: Tales Of A Stay-At Home Dad .  

Role Model

I thought yoga was relaxing!
I thought yoga was relaxing!

For well over a decade I worked with high risk youth within a three county radius of my home town. It provided invaluable insight into the lives of others. I witnessed tragedy and success among many of the families that I worked with on a daily basis for close to 12 years.

My small town has one very sad statistic. Nearly 70% of our children are in single parent households and the responsibility overwhelming falls on the shoulders of young single women. I was one of those children and to put it mildly my family was extremely dysfunctional. That was my catalyst. That was the foundation that pushed me into working with high risk youth. Somehow through all the bad decisions I had made I had arrived on the other side in one piece and wanted to reach out to kids who may be going through difficult circumstances themselves.

Ironically I had no idea at the time that this career path would be one of the early influences in my familys decision to homeschool. The role of the parent was evident to both my wife and myself.

I have often wondered how one can be a successful role model when one is constantly evolving as a human being themselves? We may argue that it is the choices we make and promote but as we all know there are a number of roads that lead to enlightenment.

I was around twelve when my parents separated so there was some opportunity for a male influence in my life but for the most part being a father, better yet being a good father, has required a lot of on the job training. I now know that proudly declaring a new tradition such as one night a year we will be eating cake and ice cream for supper is a bad idea. Truth be told I knew it was a bad idea after the third mouthful of sugar made their pupils dilate to the size of quarters and they went into a blood lust sugar frenzy. I have also learned that when you have three children under the age of seven that if things get really quiet chances are something really bad is happening. I have found that when you are changing a diaper whose contents have migrated up the back of your child that your cat and dog will simultaneously vomit on different areas of the carpet. (True story).

My biggest goal as a parent has been to show my children that I love them. Some just take that as par for the course but it is a rare gem these days. Take it from someone who has worked with troubled youth and their parents directly. I have this notion that if I provide them with enough encouragement and hugs that they will have the confidence to accomplish their hearts desire. That is the key, what they desire, not what I desire.

I am far from perfect. I raise my voice when it is unnecessary at times. I debate meaningless subjects with full conviction when I could just walk away. I am talking in particular about the great “M&M for breakfast debate” of 2011. But I am aware of my faults and yearn to be the best parent I can. I have a personal motto that I try to remember while weathering a storm of tears and permanent marker wall art, “I am the example.”

I try to remember that the way I react to a situation is going to leave a lasting impression. Whether that means turning the other cheek while I roll around in pain after stepping on a lego or complimenting the dedication involved in not changing ones underwear for days on end. Maybe this means pretending I don’t notice there seemed to be a mass exodus of jelly beans in the cupboard since the last time I looked, five minutes ago.

I’m careful not to take too much credit for my childrens behavior. I tend to think part of it is that they are just genuinely nice people. Another part of me realizes they have an amazing mother who leads by example in the home and in the community. There is a part of me that feels my own self realization is blooming simply from parenthood. Maybe at the end of the day they are the ones setting the example and I am open enough to listen to their monumental lectures delivered with the unrestrained passion of youth.

Tobias Whitaker also blogs for Mother Earth News and Grit Magazine. You can also find him on Facebook at Seed To Harvest: Bossy Hen Homestead which is a central location for his homesteading blogs and his homeschooling blog, A Mile In Her Shoes: Tales Of A Stay-At Home Dad .