Archive for category Dads & Families at The Good Men Project

Experiments in Manhood is Moving!



If you’re still following Experiments in Manhood, thank you and please consider following at the mothership, I’m streamlining content into one place on my personal website, where the blog page will essentially be a stripped down version of Experiments in Manhood with more frequent updates ranging from the professional to the paternal. Experiments in Manhood as a site is shutting down.Print

The success and attendant work of the Dads & Families section of the Good Men Project has led me to put my blogging resources there. The section has grown 350 percent since I started less than a year ago, and the digital magazine has a whole has experienced phenomenal growth this past year, further validating the conversation we’re hosting on what it means to be a man in the 21st century.

Here’s the facebook page for Dads & Families.

Twitter: @DufferRobertChicago Tribune Cars

In April 2013, I was hired as the editor and lead reporter of the Green Guide, Cars section at The Chicago Tribune. It’s a dream job where I get to report on trends in fuel-efficiency in the automotive industry. 54.5 mpg by 2025! I got to drive a Tesla Model S for fifteen wondrous minutes on Lake Shore Drive.

Here’s the facebook page for Chicago Tribune Cars.

Twitter: @ChiTribuneAuto

For my social media accounts, where I post everything from literary news to Chicago sports laments, visit facebook, twitter @DufferRobert, or g+. That should be enough for ever now.

As ever, thank you for reading.


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Robert Duffer special to HLNtv: When Do You Really Start Loving Your Kids?

That's not me. That's Oren Miller, who inspired the article, and his son.

That’s not me. That’s Oren Miller, who inspired the article, and his son.

Proud to say my writing on parenting has made it to HLNtv’s program, “Raising America”. It’s a round-up on this idea of our expectations as parents versus reality. Oren Miller, of Blogger Father, shared an insightful, honest essay about the guilt of not feeling overwhelming love for a newborn. In the comments section on both places (linked below), there was a lot of support and gratitude for the honesty. It’s an interesting topic, this disconnect from what we’re supposed to feel, and what we do feel as parents. I’m contractually allowed to share only the first paragraph, so here it is:

There’s a phenomenon that seems common among fathers, though few ever mention it outside of an old dad-to-new dad talk: the lack of storybook love for their newborn child. We’re acculturated to expect a watershed moment of unparalleled love upon holding our child for the first time, afterbirth and all. There are plenty of men who experience this, I’m sure, but more share the experience Oren Miller wrote about, first on Blogger Father, then again on the Dads & Families section of the Good Men Project. Instead, dads like Oren and I felt awe, wonder, fear and guilt.

To read the rest, check it out at HLNtv Raising America or click about the other links.

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Addressing Death, as a Parent and a Son

On Death Loneliness and Goldfish

Talking to my kids about death was the first step in listening to the loneliness evoked by loss

Day three of single parenting and I want to do something big after picking up the kids from school. Something fun. Something social. Anything but go back to the house and its static winter silence.

Seems like a big weekend. The schoolyard buzzing with weekend plans. Some of my first grader’s friends and their dads rushing to their first overnight adventure as Cub Scouts. I was a little envious. Not of their plan, but of having a plan at all.

The daddy-daughter dance is the next night. Weeks earlier, she shot me down. You’d think the terror of embarrassment would’ve ended with high school. It might’ve been my method, casually over breakfast instead of getting down on a knee and handing her a bowl of chocolate ice cream with an invitation inscribed in sprinkles. Might not have mattered. She’d seen me “dance” to Led Zeppelin one too many times. Once is one too many times.

On the walk home, usually my favorite part of the day where we dawdle and play and recap our days, the old loneliness settled in. Amidst these people I see everyday, in the hometown I returned to for the community, I don’t know anyone well enough—or convenient enough—to call up and play, adults and kids, together and separate. Or for those with plans, I projected these fantastic family adventures with parents who would probably appreciate my night of nothing. Doesn’t matter that we had a two-night ski trip the weekend before. This illogical mood deepens because I’m inadequate not just socially but as a parent; I haven’t given the kids an option either. But this isn’t the source I’m avoiding. They want their mom and I want my best friend, who has gone home to Philly where her grandmother, who raised her like a daughter, had been waiting to die.

So we went home. Put a cork in my self-pitying bullshit. Played hockey in the basement, fiddled with Legos. Amused ourselves. This is what I wanted—a distraction from the self-examination evoked by death; from the seeking—for meaning, connection, validity, whatever—that results from loneliness.

God, who cast man in his likeness, has an uncannily human sense of metaphor and story.

That morning, after breakfast, I told the kids that GG died. Their adaptability to any news amazes me, but it was their understanding that floored me. When I said she was in heaven, Ria, who was doted on as much as any great grandmother could, corrected me: “No, Dad, she’s in here,” touching her chest, “and over here,” gesturing over her shoulder, smiling coyly before running off.

I didn’t know my son was feeling anything until dinner tonight.

“Doesn’t it make you sad, Ria? You should be sad.”

From the range I was about to interject but then heard him say, “I almost cried this morning.”

“You did?” I asked, treading carefully.

“Kinda. My eyes got all hot.”

We talked about what happened–and what happens–over quesadillas. They were worried about Mom. She didn’t think GG would die. She had gone out there to boost her spirits and get her out of the hospital, show videos and tell stories of the kids, a strategy that had worked a half-dozen times before. Not this time. A day after Heather’s arrival, GG demanded hospice. She was tired of fighting, I told them.

They mentioned the fish. Just last week, Heather, a heart nurse who never lets anything go, took multiple trips to the pet store and the library and Google to resuscitate one of our four goldfish, who’d been hovering near the top of the tank, alive but unswimming. Diagnosis: swim bladder. Lots of causes, one remedy: Gotta feed the fish manually. Fish refused all her ministrations. Next morning, dead. There was a eulogy. I played TAPS. Flush. Best thing about those fish is teaching the kids the cycle of life.

I didn’t share with them the text Heather had sent at 2:20am, not three hours before GG passed:

“Fish with swim belly. GG with a clot in her belly. A Nor’ Easter named Nemo whirling outside this tank of a hospice room. Maybe God does have a sense of humour.”

Aside from autocorrect being British, we glean that God, who cast man in his likeness, has an uncannily human sense of metaphor and story.

The connection they made with the fish blew my mind. We shared memories, we made lists of things we remembered, we facetimed with the Philly folk. What I couldn’t explain to the kids, what I’ve slowly been coming to all day, is this idea of loneliness. It is this reconciliation I wanted to avoid tonight, or at least forestall by surrounding myself with life. What is loneliness if not the consciousness of death? The fear of death is the fear of being alone; it’s why the faiths are filled with promises of eternal communion: believe in me and you will never walk alone.

This is Heather’s first major death, which is made even tougher for a woman who keeps people from dying for a living. It doesn’t matter that GG, who lived 82 years and with whom we were able to share her last Thanksgiving, whose hand Heather got to hold and say goodbye to, went out in an ideal way, quickly and in her sleep. Doesn’t matter. Now comes what my brother calls The Hardening.

It’s been 16 years since our mom died. She was 52. I was 21. My first major. Subsequent grievings are involuntarily compared to and pale to it. Maybe it’s that way with mothers. I hope to know nothing more about it. She had two remissions over three years then an interminable hospice. When her physical form finally passed I was free. I traveled, then I returned when the loneliness shifted from beautiful to dangerous. With each sojourn I’d get more distance, building up the confidence to live without anyone, making no commitments and keeping no connections. Being on my own, fully and freely, meant I could live without that insatiable, capricious pain of loss. Being alone meant I was in control. It didn’t take long to reconcile that trying to live without love sucks. That love leads to loss and loss leads to pain. The Hardening is the mature acceptance of our mortality, the resignation to all things transient, and learning to embrace the pain of loss.

It will be a while before Heather’s sets. The acuteness will fade but the hole will never disappear. It’s not something to get over; the feeling of loss—what we call loneliness—is something you come to appreciate as a reminder of what was there. I remind her of this via text, middle of the night, but I’m really reminding myself so I can better frame it for the kids, or better understand life and loss now as a father and a son. When we share pictures, we tell stories, we play out memories, however clumsily, we are listening to that hole of loss, listening to what it is saying. That hole is the sound of loneliness. It is a good thing; not an easy thing, most certainly not a bad thing. We must listen. Because the alternative is silence.

—first appeared at the Dads & Families section of the Good Men Project

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Hunting for Dad: Part 2

Part 2 is up. I’ve been wanting to get this article published for a while. It means a lot to me because the hunt means so much to the guys who let me invade their space for three days last year, and because the family is dear to me. I don’t expect to do it justice, but it’s a shot. It’ll be serialized over three parts.

Family and friends bury the ashes of the man who brought them together

Part 2 in a three-part series; click for Part 1

Inherent in every hunter is the quiet philosopher. The choice of solitude and listening to the woods, from dawn to dusk, lends itself to introspection. A slow day of hunting is an extended daydream grounded in the hopes and problems you brought into the woods. It offers a chance to understand your place in the much wider and wilder woods we navigate. It is the hunter, then, who can see the forest for the trees.

“It got to the point where it was no longer your dad taking you hunting but you taking your dad hunting,” Tom says. It’s a proud moment, and he references the cycle of life. The first time Tom shot a gun, at age 7, was with his dad. And now we’re about to bury his ashes at the base of his tree stand, which has fallen into disrepair.

Several years ago, the sons built a ground blind so Bob wouldn’t have to climb. Then they intended to build a gazebo in the heart of the property where the main access road gets swallowed by the woods. They cleared the spot, laid out the slab, but Bob would no longer be able to make the drive, no matter what comforts they erected for him on the land. Diabetes crippled him, so the end of the last few years, when he was no longer living, were met with relief.

Now, almost a year later, amidst the second home he opened to his friends and family, they celebrate his life.

Rea the rest at




Hunting for Dad: Rites, Rituals, and the Tribe

I’ve been wanting to get this article published for a while. It means a lot to me because the hunt means so much to the guys who let me invade their space for three days last year, and because the family is dear to me. I don’t expect to do it justice, but it’s a shot. It’ll be serialized over three parts. Here’s a tease:

Family makes annual pilgrimage to hunt deer and bury the ashes of the patriarch

The winds are supposed to get up to 50 mph. The hunt may be cut short because the high winds confuse the deer, throw their senses for a loop, so they bed down to keep safe. In this case, the deer are smarter than the hunters.

We’re twenty-five feet in the air, suspended between two oaks on a sheet of plywood reinforced by joists braced on either side of both trees. We face each other, our backs against our respective trees, the rifle hung from the hook above Tom’s head. He built this stand, along with his dad, who we are here to bury. It’s been hours since we spoke, and the only thing we’ve heard since daybreak was the mad warbling of turkeys, like a gang of women in the kitchen as holiday guests start to arrive. And the wind.

It roars like a waterfall over the ridges and down the valleys, unimpeded by the thick November woods. The gusts cyclone leaves on the ground back up into the air and when it dies down, you shouldn’t relax. The tree stand rocks like a small boat in a big lake and, earlier in the morning, sleeping off last night’s arrival, I napped in a ball at my friend’s feet, awakened by the sense that I was going to pitch over the side. He’s sitting up against the tree now, nodding off like you’re supposed to, always at the ready. That’s how you do it, even in the extended daydream that can be a slow day of hunting.

It’s day one of the hunting season, a day that’s taken a year to arrive for these guys, in a week fraught with more meaning than in any of the decades preceding the family ritual. I’ve never hunted, don’t have a rifle or a permit, so for now I’m content to observe, eager for getting down to the ground and to the cooler for lunch. We’ll meet up on top of the ridge, with Dave, the son-in-law real estate lawyer whose built like a defensive lineman. We moved his tree stand earlier, and if he wasn’t a relative newcomer I’d think he could hoist the metal store-bought stand by himself. We’ll also meet up with Mike and his teenage daughter. When we picked her up the day before, she emerged from her high school with a boy who quickly peeled away. She wore a mid-thigh skirt, and an unzipped fleece jacket flapping in the wind. Now she’ll be covered in Carhartt camouflage, an orange jacket, and with one of her dad’s rifles, the metamorphosis complete. Mike, the eldest son-in-law, is a picture of zen. He recently sold his flooring business—the knees only last so long—and joined his wife in her home office as a mortgage broker. Like the Dude, he abides, and his easy going manner belies a profound, spiritual intellect that makes him the go-to guy for answers.

I want to get the hell down out of the wind and stretch my legs, meet up with the guys to understand what it is about the northern part of Missouri that attracts them, and what it is about hunting that connects these men in some profound way spiritually, geographically, ecologically, and as a tribe.

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Dad Gets Pissed at Being Called Good

At the Good Men Project today, a response to a dad who hates being called good.

Dad goes Andy Rooney on woman who praised his parenting

So this woman sees a man saddled with a one- and three-year-old disinfecting his shopping cart at Target. She calls him a good dad, the dad says thanks, but internally he’s seething.

“I absolutely hate it when strangers call me a ‘good dad,’” Matt Villano wrote in “Motherlode”, The New York Times parenting blog.

With no context — and no real basis for interpretation — the act of labeling someone a “good dad” suggests that most dads are, by our very nature as fathers, somehow less than “good.” That we don’t care. That we’re mostly cruel.

What’s more, the phrase evinces a heinous double standard: It’s not like strangers compliment women as being “good moms” for doting, loving and doing normal mom stuff.

You know what they say about opinions.


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Pig Face Hangs Up His Mask

Grandpa prankster shifts strategies in scaring another generation

Pig face is retired. The man behind the mask is not. His grandchildren might breathe easier.

The man behind the mask is Duff, and Halloween is known as Duff Day. As a scare persona that he often kept balled in his pocket like antacids, Duff’s Pig Face is relatively new but effective. Pig Face appeared behind closet doors, on back porches, in basement recesses. Two grandsons will not come to the door unless they see their grandfather standing in full sight, waving him in. They’ve been scarred by a knock-off Texas Chainsaw Massacre pig mask and a grandfather that knows no limits. Cruel and unusual? Not in our family.

Our instinct to protect our children led to a soft rebuke, at best, because our dad was born on Halloween and, in the mornings of his youth, Duff would often find his toe tied to his big brother’s toe, their grandfather snickering silently in the corner. It’s in the family DNA and, as his children, we were used to it.

Corners weren’t safe in our house. Neither was the tub with the curtain drawn. Washing dishes, according to my sister, meant he’d jump up behind from the opening between the kitchen sink and the dining room. Dare to retrieve something from the pantry, which was connected to the crawlspace, which always had mice, and the door would slam: he was able to throw his shoe, from his recliner across the room, over your shoulder against the door. It was practiced like any skill. To this day, it’s easier to sleep on my right side because my left side faced the window that terrified my brother, the window that he glimpsed in the vampire movie Salem’s Lot, that provoked him to hide behind the couch and caused our mother to force our dad to turn it off. Duff promised to climb a ladder up to our window, to give the vampires easier access. This was our normal.

We had a presence in our house, the Ghost of John, who was to blame for any strange noises, and who hung out on the kitchen light fixture, what my sister describes as a “weird gooey guy with green half pants.” I vaguely remember the figure but the Ghost of John—as a presence—lives on in our home, with our kids, who blame silly John for the noises and knocks that might otherwise have scared them.

Our children’s metaphoric skin is thick, like Pig Face. Though we are no longer fun for Duff, his grandkids surprised him this Halloween: Pig Face was as scary as a squirrel. With so much competing for their attention, the grandkids were not scared.  Our son has learned the joys of the scare, and also of the disappointment. His attempts at scaring his aunt—around corners, from behind doors—failed, and her response caused him the most trouble. “I grew up with Duff,” she explained. Attempts at scaring the Grand Pooh-Bah of scare have been met with loving mockery. Inspired by Leonardo the Terrible Monster, who is not good at scaring, the boy has had to seek out new victims. That makes Duff proud, and intent on finding a new mask.


New at the GMP: How to Tell a True Family Story

Writer Tomas Moniz traces the roots of divorce in this essay on time and the influence of generations. “Family is the stories we tell to give ourselves roots, to make connections, to foster new possibilities.” Check out the piece at the Dads & Families section of the Good Men Project.

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