In the beginning there were deadbeat dads... But with a little help from a changing patriarchal society (thank you feminism, you've done your job well), all that's changing. Enter The Dad Beat. Now also available at

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Apartment Hunting with Children - It's not all white elephants

Unless you're comfortable living in the neighborhood of a Chernobyl-like nuclear meltdown, searching for rental accommodation is a guaranteed pain in the keister. In Vancouver in particular, where prices soar above those anywhere else in Canada , finding an affordable, attractive rental for your family will be a challenge that at times can feel insurmountable. Within a week of giving notice at your last home, you'll no doubt begin to feel a surge of regret: “What if I don't find anything?”

Read on for some pointers and tools that will help alleviate some of the stress most single parents feel looking for suitable accommodation.


1. Plan ahead. Start looking before you give notice. Think about what areas of town are you'd like to live in, what kind of place is realistic and what you can afford. Reading the classifieds and the resources listed below, and going to look at available places will give you a good idea of what the market is like at any given moment. Also, if you're looking for co-op housing, you'll need to begin your search and the application process months (and in some cases, years) before you expect to sign a lease.

2. Compile a list of essential information that landlords will ask for: Employment history, banking history, proof of income, references from past landlords, other references. Always bring this information with you to viewings.

3. Contact friends to let them know you're looking. Sometimes this will be the quickest route to finding a new place, and friends are sometimes the best references.

4. Use several resources in your search. You'll find different websites specialize in different types of accommodation – some list co-ops; others are for university students. Some attract low income families; still others feature luxury condos for in-town movie execs. See below for a thorough list of mostly Vancouver-based resources.

5. Always ask specific questions before going to see the home. Important ones include:
  1. Is this a basement apartment (they !#$%ing seldom seem to say it outright in the ads!)
  2. How many square feet is the place? (kids and tiny homes don't go well together)
  3. When is it available? (Little point in going to see a place that isn't available for 3 months)
  4. Is there a yard? Is the yard secure?
  5. Do you require a lease? How long?
  6. Do you mind huge house parties with strippers and Columbian drug cartel types? (just kidding)
6. When going to viewings bring the following: A street map, snacks and drinks for the kids, all pertinent info (see 2 above) and a cell phone.

7. If you have particularly rambunctious or noisy children, consider leaving them at home or with a child minder. There's no question that most landlords are on the whole predisposed to childless tenants. Certainly an absent child will serve you better than a noisy one.

8. Don't lie about having children on your application.

9. Stay calm. Even if you're running behind, you're bound to find something if you exhaust all the resources below. If you find yourself in a bind, and still don't have something as you're nearing the end of the month, consider taking something you don't like but which doesn't require a lease - that way you can start the search again as soon as you've recovered from the first disaster!

Use these links to get you started on your search in the BC region. For those outside this area, use Google and type "apartment rentals" followed by your city/town name in the search field. You should find numerous links there. Good luck.

Co-op Housing

Rent BC

My Ideal Home Rentals

Apartment Guide

Co-op Housing

Canadian Co-op Network

Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada

Low Income and Subsidized Housing

If you have more suggestions and links to add to the list, please contact me at

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Parenting Teens: An entirely different ball game

The meat: Parenting teens is difficult. Their brains are in flux and their attitudes seem to stink. Here are the new facts and a few tools that will make your job easier and more rewarding.

Well, it’s mother’s day. Hooray for moms the world over. Thanks for putting up with us, deadbeat dads, abusive husbands, insane children… we don’t deserve you, really.

So here it is again: Thanks, Mom.

Remember that time we fought over a case of beer on the front lawn, because I was only 18 and you were only trying to uphold the law? In a rage, I snatched it from you and smashed it on the walkway to our home. What a lethal combination: a mom drawing a line and male adolescent hormones!

If you’re a parent of teenagers, you are probably familiar with behaviour similar, if not as extreme, to this. Actually, the culprit is increasingly thought not to be hormonal so much as it is mental. Apparently, the human brain continues to grow throughout adolescence, and the result is that adolescents are more susceptible than their parents to long term damage caused by violence, binge drinking and drug use. What’s dangerous about this is that we learn much of our behaviours (smoking, drinking, drugs, violence) from the adults around us.

Here’s an explanation from an article at South Coast Today:

This year in the scientific journal Nature, researchers presented a series of time-lapse images depicting brain growth from age three to 15. The images showed a tangle of nerve cells sprouting in the part of the brain that sits above the eyes, then a period of "pruning" after puberty, when about half of the new fibers are cut away to create an efficient network of circuits.

All this action happens in a part of the brain known as the prefrontal cortex, an area responsible for what neuroscientists call the "executive functions." Those functions are practically a laundry list of the qualities adolescents often lack -- goal-setting, priority-setting, planning, organization and impulse inhibition.

Scientists also found that adolescents, or at least adolescent rats, suffer more profound long term effects from everything from smoking to drinking to exposure to violence.

Researchers at the University of North Carolina recently decided to test the sensitivity of the adolescent brain to binge drinking by subjecting rats to an alcohol bender. Four times a day for four days, they gave both adolescent and adult rats 10 grams of alcohol per kilogram of body weight. After the rats had sobered up, the researchers looked for brain damage and found more in adolescent rats compared to adults.

Without going into the science of it, we can safely assume that this new information might lead us to new approaches of parenting. For example, if we’re falling into a negative routine with our teen kids, having the same arguments, and keep feeling that no one’s winning because resolution never occurs (and this is normal), it’s time to look more carefully at the way we’re communicating with our kids. As parents, we set the stage for our child’s development, not the other way around. When we don’t do our homework, chances are we’re learning by trial and error, and that can take a long time. And who wants to mess up that many children?

An excellent article from Focus Adolescent Services gives the best advice on parenting adolescents that I’ve ever seen. Here’s an excerpt, with a link:

There are three major areas that are crucial to the parent-adolescent relationship -- connection, monitoring, and psychological autonomy. First, a sense of connection between a teenager and parent provides a backdrop against which all other interaction takes place. If the parent-child connection is consistent, positive, and characterized by warmth, kindness, love, and stability, children are more likely to flourish socially. Adolescents who describe their relationship with their parents as warm, kind, and consistent are more likely to initiate social interaction with other adolescents and with other adults. They are more likely to respond to others positively and with greater empathy. They are more likely to be self-confident in their relationships with others, and to be more cooperative with others. Also, teens with these kinds of positive relationships with their parents on the whole struggle less with depression, and have higher self-esteem. Relationships characterized by kindness and devoid of unkind words or acts appear to be important to healthy adolescent development.
Read the rest of this great tool here.

Monday, May 08, 2006

The Five B's: The Easy Way to do Bedtime

Somewhere early on with my daughter I made a not all that astute oberservation about the bedtime ritual: It is a ritual. And like most rituals, there can be a soothing, gentle and even fun quality to bedtime. Or it can be like sacrificing a lamb. Not fun, unless you're twisted.

The Important Stuff

The five B's are simple and can pretty much go in any order, though I usually follow this one:

1. have a BATH
2. BRUSH teeth
3. go to the BATHROOM
4. read a BOOK
5. drink a BOTTLE ("BUBBA")

With young children (0-3) you've pretty much got to walk your kid through it – unless you're some sort of Montessori “my child was swimming at 8 months, reading by 16 months” sort of delicate genius. Between 3 and 4 you’ve got to be regularly training the babes to do some things on their own, such as putting pajamas on, having a poo/pee, and choosing a story. While they’re doing this you can be getting the bottle ready, tidying up the kitchen/bedroom if you’re like me there’s only a 50/50 chance that the bed’s been made up.

The Details

1. Regarding having a bath, here’s what I think: Why bother? My daughter’s four; if she doesn’t want a bath, I give her the option of having a shower with me in the morning. Let’s face it, it takes less time that way and she comes out cleaner. Some dad’s don’t feel comfortable having a shower with their kids, and that’s fine, too. Do the bath thing. Just don’t leave a child who can’t swim alone in the tub. Bathtime is a good time to play with your child. It’s also a great time for your child to play alone. So you may want to bring a book, just in case.

2. Brushing teeth at least twice every day is a no brainer. Unless you like blowing hard earned dough on your kid’s braces and your dentist’s new Lexus, make sure they do it. Do it for them until they’ve got the idea. Once they’re doing it themselves, look closely at their teeth from time to time – are they clean? If not, help them improve. As for flossing, well, you know.

3. My daughter always used to want me to be there when she went to the bathroom. By about age 3, she was going alone, and would often not even bother to tell me when she was dropping the kids off at the pool, but then would call out, at the top of her lungs, “I’m READY!” After badgering her for months to wipe on her own, I finally started answering the “I’m ready!” with “Ok, go ahead.” Maia would go silent for a moment, and then say, “Come on, Dad. I’m ready. Wipe my bum.” To which I’d answer, “Nah. You do it. You’ll like it – it’s fun.” Though I did teach her a few times the technique of wiping that I use, she seemed to figure it out on her own.

Here's a link that deals with newborns -- from butt wiping to soothing. Handy stuff for new parents.

(NOTE for parents of girls: I once watched Maia wiping after a poop and she was going from the back to the front. Major no-no. Wiping poo from cute little butt to “pooty” (ie. Vagina) can cause a urinary tract infection.)

4. Reading is a no-brainer, too. If you don’t do it, you risk having a child who can’t read well later on. This can kill their self-esteem and they’ll probably end up the kind of parent who doesn’t read to their kid. Also, take your time. Ask your kids if you’re reading too fast. They’ll tell you when you are.

If you have one child, I recommend that you each select a book. Kids often pick something fluffy. You should be picking something fun but educational and appropriate to their reading/listening level. If you want to read crap to them, expect them to be reading crap when they’re 35 and managing a McDonalds.

If you have two or more kids, let them each pick a book.

5. Bottles. Bubbas. Sippy cups. Milk. Soy milk. Rice milk. Breast milk. I know a woman who, last time I spoke to her, had two kids, 7 and 4 I believe, and was still breastfeeding both. That may be “fucking weird” as some have said. Perhaps it’s the right thing. I don’t know. What’s right for you as a parent is what your conscience tells you. The truth. We balance our child’s health with our beliefs and the norms of the culture we own. I feed Maia a bottle of warm cow milk at bedtime. I usually ask her if she wants some beer milk too, just for kicks.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Dealing with whining ones

NOTE: If you have an very young child and are having trouble calming your baby, see the video at the end of this post -- it's excellent advice.

Ok. You’ve got a hangover that goes on and on like a bad dream, the house is a mess and you’re depressed. “Why do I put myself in these situations,” you’re asking yourself. “How is it that my life keeps hitting the same lows?” To make matters worse, your beautiful child seems to be whining about every little thing that happens. Every thing she can’t have her way on becomes the height of histrionics, her face long as a horse’s, tears erupting with every “no”, “time to clean up” and “time to get dressed”. She can’t find a pair of tights and becomes hysterical because it’s a cold day out and she’ll have to wear a pair of pants if there are no tights.

Sometimes being a parent just feels too much, like a job that we’d gladly walk away from in favor of hitting the bar with a couple buddies or checking out a show or spending the night in a hotel room with someone we hardly know. Ok, maybe the last one is a fantasy, but it’s one we all have in common.

Whiny kids are a fact of parenthood. In fact, the X and I had a conversation about this recently – I was dismayed to hear her pronounce that we in fact have a whiny child.

“She’s the least whiny kid I know,” I argued. “She’s the opposite of whiny.”

“Well, not when she’s with me or Iris (the nanny). She can be really whiny.”

“About what?”

“Whatever. What she can’t have. What she has to have. You know.”

“I just don’t understand. She’s not like that with me.”

The truth is, however, that Maia is like that with me, but I’ve got a selective memory. This morning she was like that, and I’ve still got a headache.

It’s hard when you’re in the middle of that sort of behaviour and have to deal with it on the fly. When a happy kids falls and scrapes his knee, it’s relatively easy to deal with: You wipe the tears, put a bandage on the cut and apply a kiss on top. A little hug and a pat on the cute butt and they’re off and having fun again. But children in a state of whinyhood are generally prone to meltdowns repeated throughout the day. Tough to deal with because we take it on personally that our children cry – it they’re crying all the time we must be doing something wrong. But are we? Not necessarily.

Children are whiny for one of several reasons:

1. They’re hungry
2. They’re tired
3. They need something (a break, affection, disciplining, etc.)
4. They need some structure
5. They’re growing and feeling discomfort

Each of these can be dealt with in some way, to minimize the fallout that results from it. 1 and 2 are pretty easy to discern, but other needs may be harder. Here’s a useful tip to get into the habit of with a whiny child (and obvious, too).

Ask your child what they need.

Sounds obvious, but it can take a while to learn. And kids are usually able to tell you what they want. The trouble is, they may not know exactly what they want, so the answer might come out incorrectly: “I want that candy. Whah. Whah. Whah.” But if we pry a little further, the child can tell us more. “I know you’d like that candy, but we’ll be eating dinner soon, so let’s have dinner and then some dessert afterward. You’ve been crying a lot today though and I want to find out how we can make you happy now without candy. Do you think you need some time alone? Or a hug?”

With my daughter, when I’m patient, I can usually ascertain the problem with this line of questioning. It’s important to do because the secret to their mood lies in the subtleties. Getting to know the subtle shifts in her behaviour can tell me a lot about when something is coming up, or even when it already has. Knowing that allows me to address the issues and have few meltdowns.

Number 4 is interesting. Structure. I’m not the biggest proponent of the golden rule of parenting that says all children need structure all the time. Up at 7am. Breakfast by 730. In bed at night precisely at 8pm, etc. All the better for you if you follow this pattern, because then your children know what’s going on and can predict their day accurately. And later in life they may be a little anal about some things, but at least they’ll be in control. But if you’re not using this model, you might want to try it out with a whiny kid, letting them know what’s coming up in their day and keeping each day of the week a little more structured, including bedtimes, mealtimes, bathtimes, etc. But this will take some commitment on your part.

The fifth cause of whininess is pain, which is brought on by growing and is very common. And if you imagine your joints bulging and slowly erupting, teeth growing, intestines lengthening… it hurts. I remember those nebulous, mysterious pains, and the pain and concern they caused me as a kid. So, this is a conversation we need to have with our kids from time to time, to remind them they are growing and that it’s normal to feel uncomfortable. When your kid is in pain, but them some slack. A little extra love will go a long way.

Check out this video from Alpha Mom about calming fussy babies. (Yes, I know, what about Alpha Dad!?!#$!@)

Friday, May 05, 2006

Co-parenting Harmony

Co-parenting harmony

I'm pretty lucky as far as co-parents go. It took a couple years, but with only a couple shouting matches and a single two month blackout period where we spoke almost not at all, my ex and I have established a pretty level playing ground.

Importantly, we split the week pretty much 50/50 with our daughter. I have Maia Wednesday after work (5ish) until Saturday noon (or when I can track the X down) one week; the following week I have Maia from Wednesday at 5pm till Sunday at 5pm. If you do the math, X actually has our daughter for a few more hours than I do, but I have her during fewer working hours and more on weekends. So it works out.

This kind of an agreement was, for me, a major turning point. Say you're a weekend dad and just have your child on some combination of weekend days and evenings. That's good for you, if that's what you want. I sought to avoid this for a few reasons.
  1. I didn't want to pay her to do my job.
  2. I wanted to spend more time with my kid than that.
  3. I felt that not being with my kid might screw her up.

I grew up in a family that for better or worse stayed together. I enjoyed spending time with my dad and mom. I know in my heart I would have felt incomplete without a Dad there every day. In fact, I only wanted more quality time with him. I would not deprive my daughter of that under any circumstances.

What’s so great about co-parenting? Well, for starters, you get a pretty big break every week to fish, date, work, relax, read, write, travel, recuperate, etc. When I don’t have Maia, I’m usually doing a combination of those things.

You also get a good chunk of time to get to know your kid(s), learn from them, have them learn from you and have fun. When I pick Maia up after work Wednesdays, we go to Granville Island, do a big shop for a special dinner (don’t forget to grab some treats – caramels for Maia, goose liver pate with black truffles for me) and drop by “Kids Only” market before heading home. After my three day “break” we’re ready to hang out late (9pm for us), watch a movie and read a few stories (Check out Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse. What a great one!).

Thursday is back to the regular schedule and Maia usually seems to have settled in comfortably by then.

Another great aspect about this arrangement is my roommates. Suzie is a single mom with two kids of her own (4 and 7), and her own parenting style as well. I’ve learned a lot from her along the way. And Maia has gained three close and trusted friends out of the deal – yet we have talked about our unique family lots. The children speak of one another like siblings, and we encourage a common family respect, but each of us is aware that one day our two families will have their own homes. We look forward to the sleepovers we’ll share once that happens.

This kind of shared home living has deep roots in not just our own culture, but many others, too. Hippie communes in the '60s, extended families living together in Asia, communal living in Soviet Russia, villages of huts just feet apart in Africa. It makes more sense to me than adamantly trying to go it alone as a single parent: It’s harder to learn from other parents as a single parent on your own. It’s more difficult to find help on the fly for babysitting, sick kids, and so on. It’s more expensive to do it alone.

My roommates thus far have been easy to find: Friends. But what happens later, once we’re ready to purchase a home? Well, that’s going to be tough in Vancouver. There’s nothing for a small family for less than about $600,000 here. I’m interested in buying a home with anther family. Two small families, in four rooms, with a yard. It can be tough sharing space with others, but hey, isn’t that what family life is about?

Monday, May 01, 2006

Power to the Poppas

I love moms. And I hope most of you do too. I met a guy named Joel not long ago who had the most unique approach to his birthday I've ever heard. I wanted to hug Joel when he told me that each year on his birthday he actually sent his mother a card, thanking her for giving birth to and caring for him. Aw, shucks, Joel.

That aside, articles like this one will never be found at dadbeat: Great Baby Products that Make Mom’s Life Easier. It may be a well written, informative piece. Hell, it could be up for a Pulitzer Prize, but what's the point if, before I take a sip of my Earl Grey the first thing I read is about how to make Mom's life easier. Does this author not know of a single male parent that might find her store's products useful?

Whether you're at the bookstore or the library, shopping for formula, or watching television, it's always the same story: Moms are parents, dads are, well... not present. It would seem that dads are to moms what Andy Richter was to Conan O'Brian -- which is to say, a goofy side kick.

Don't dads read stories to their children? Don't we feed our children? Care for them? Love them? This is my message to Tide, Pampers, Penguin books and the rest of you: Don't underestimate the spending power of dads.

Now get out there and write a kids' book.