on religion (or lack thereof).

Many times we’ve braced ourselves for lectures about the importance of baptism, regular church attendance, and other religious traditions that have deep importance in the lives of certain family members and friends. So far those lectures haven’t come. We’ve only received a couple nudges, in the form of a religious greeting card or a Christian baby book here and there. We feel like we’ve gotten off pretty easy so far.

We are not religious people. We are not spiritual people. We both have our reasons for avoiding religion and remaining focused on more worldly pursuits. I won’t speak for Lauren, but here’s a little background on my own interaction with religion.

I was baptized in the Catholic church, I’m guessing mostly to satisfy my paternal grandparents. My parents chose to attend my mother’s rather liberal northern Baptist church, the pastor of which would end up being one of the most influential figures in my upbringing besides my parents. Charlie was unconventional. He was preoccupied with providing the youth of the church community with healthy outlets for their creativity and sense of adventure. Our church’s youth group was probably the least religiously oriented church youth group on the planet. We went on camping trips, we went skiing, we went hiking, we hung out and socialized. We had a safe space to be ourselves, and it was something we all needed and benefited from greatly.

Eventually Charlie’s kids developed an interest in music. One quickly mastered the guitar and the other took on the drums. Meanwhile, I quit high school band in favor of guitar lessons. Several other friends played instruments and soon a bunch of bands were formed. Charlie got it in his head to buy a PA and hold rock shows in the church basement. I helped him book local bands, and within a year a safe and positive local scene had developed around the shows.

Thanks to Charlie, I gained experience not only as a musician and songwriter but also as a show organizer. I applied these basic skills to everything I did in my 20s — booking shows for Delphine, an indie rock band I toured with in 2003; organizing the Cheap Rent house party series; and later, booking national tours for my wizard rock band. Also thanks to Charlie, my approach to all my musical endeavors has been community-driven, collaborative, non-competitive, and based on the notion that all creative expression is important, even (especially!) if it’s coming from beginners who are just developing their chops.

Besides his profound influence on my musical endeavors, Charlie also encouraged me toward progressive values that, for him, are rooted in Christianity. Charlie preached against war and for peace and diplomacy. He taught us about economic inequality and he spoke to the importance of political advocacy, while most church communities focus merely on charity and service. His sermons were universalist in spirit, and so were my Sunday school teachers, who taught me that all religions are different cultural interpretations of the same holy presence. To some in the church community, Charlie was a heretic and a troublemaker. To me, he was an embodiment of the lessons Jesus taught. He placed an emphasis on Christian values, while most other religious institutions placed an emphasis on human-created dogma.

I remember believing in the immaculate conception, the birth story, and the resurrection as a child, but I didn’t start thinking about that stuff critically until my early teens. As soon as I had the capacity to think about those stories critically, I began to view them as mythology more than events that actually took place. I zoomed out from the details and objectively considered the big picture of Christianity. I saw it as one religion and one mythology among many, all of which were meant to provide context and motivation for an ethical lifestyle.

For me, the takeaways were the central morals of Christ’s teachings: turn the other cheek, treat others as you wish to be treated, love your enemy, love your neighbor, be a good citizen of your local and global community. If I’m living out those morals in my day to day existence, then what does it matter if I’m not attending church, participating in rituals, or believing in a variety of metaphorical parables?

I hesitate to call myself an atheist, specifically because I think true atheism requires about as much faith as theism. It’s as bold a statement to say that there is no higher presence as it is to say that there is. At times I’ve identified as agnostic, but even that has a connotation that doesn’t quite feel right to me. By my own definition, I am a Christian, in the sense that I have abided by the central tenets of Christ’s teachings in my interactions with people and the world, but the average dogmatic Christian probably wouldn’t appreciate my take on that term.

Recently I’ve become fond of Let the Mystery Be by Iris Dement, the lyrics of which sum up my feelings about the meaning of life pretty well:

Everybody’s wonderin’ what and where
They all came from
Everybody’s worryin’ ’bout where they’re gonna go
When the whole thing’s done
But no one knows for certain and so it’s all the same to me
I think I’ll just let the mystery be

Some say once gone you’re gone forever
And some say you’re gonna come back
Some say you rest in the arms of the Savior
If in sinful ways you lack
Some say that they’re comin’ back in a garden
Bunch of carrots and little sweet peas
I think I’ll just let the mystery be

Some say they’re goin’ to a place called Glory
And I ain’t saying it ain’t a fact
But I’ve heard that I’m on the road to Purgatory
And I don’t like the sound of that
I believe in love and I live my life accordingly
But I choose to let the mystery be

Of course, there are times when I’m bowled over by a hyper-awareness of the majesty of creation, and in those moments I can’t help but think about what the heck we’re all doing here. But I always end up circling back to the same reality: I don’t know anything for sure, and my only real, universal belief is that we should be good to each other and good to ourselves while we’re here.

That’s something I think we can instill in Rory without organized religion. I’ve found once you’ve committed to that basic value, the rest really sorts itself out. Ultimately, if we were to baptize Rory and commit to a specific church and associated dogma, we’d be engaging in a very complicated lie, one that would undermine one of the most basic principles of Christianity. That seems pretty silly to me. If Rory grows up and finds religious conviction on his own terms, it’ll be that much more meaningful, and I certainly won’t stop him.

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on privacy and safety.

Today, a person identifying themselves as Concerned Blog Reader posted the following comment on my last installment of Dad in Plaid:

I think you should respect your child’s right to privacy and not go spreading his image and story all over the internet. Rory’s hardly an age where he can give his consent to such things, and should be allowed to grow up without being in the spotlight, so to speak, since day one.

Setting aside the judgmental and presumptuous tone of this comment, I think Concerned Blog Reader makes a fair point. Rory truly lacks the ability to consent to the publicization of his earliest days. He may very well grow up to resent the fact that I’ve shared his baby pictures and information about his birth and infancy. This is something I considered before launching this project, and it’s something I take into account when identifying topics and writing posts. Most important, I think, is the subject of safety. I am a public figure within a small cultural bubble and the executive director of a nonprofit organization with global reach. Lauren is a public figure within an even larger cultural bubble. I have thousands of followers on social media; Lauren has nearly 60,000 subscribers on YouTube (n.b., Lauren is sharing much less about Rory through her own channels, specifically because her reach is that much higher than mine and she deals with many more trolls and invaders of privacy as a result). We’ve both encountered stalkerish behavior within our respective fan bases. Certain offenders have been blocked from viewing our social media accounts, and we’ve even had to alert event organizers about certain attendees in order to ensure that we could avoid/escape them if needed.

This presents a dilemma for us now that we’re parents. In the Harry Potter fandom and in the broader nerd and DIY music and art community, we’ve found a welcoming home where we’ve been able to thrive as creators and community leaders. For every individual who’s crossed a boundary and made us feel uncomfortable or unsafe, there are literally thousands of people who’ve treated us like real people and extended their generosity and support to us in one way or another. Back when we were touring full time, we frequently played house party shows that lacked any kind of boundaries between performers and fans. We ate dinner with our hosts and slept on their couches. Over the years, we developed genuine friendships with wizard rock fans all over the United States and Canada, to the extent that we looked forward to seeing specific people in almost every city we played.

Because of this overwhelmingly positive experience, I have always felt very little need to set up even the most reasonable boundaries for myself on the internet. While many of my colleagues created specialized lists on facebook in order to protect their more personal content, I remained stubborn and gave equal access to everyone, working under the assumption that most people would handle themselves responsibly. If someone ever crossed a boundary, I simply blocked them and left it at that.

Rory has changed that for me. I finally caved and created a list for friends and family who have access to everything — all the pictures and personal information that I wouldn’t feel comfortable posting in public spaces. I agonized over this list for weeks because it felt so weird to draw the line between “family and friends” and the broader community that has treated me like family since 2005. The end result is a list that includes around 300 people and feels a bit silly at times. This was after several rounds of narrowing it down — I believe my first pass had around 600 people!

Anyway, Lauren and I obviously care about Rory’s safety, and we understand that his very existence ups the stakes for our family. The stalkerish behavior we’ve encountered usually comes from people who feel they’re closer to us than they truly are. The last thing we want is for anyone to think they’ve earned a privileged level of access to Rory based on an inaccurate sense of their relationship with me and Lauren.

It may seem that by creating this dad blog, I’m inviting this type of behavior. Here are a few reasons why I’m not terribly worried:

  1. This blog is getting around 600 to 700 views per post. It’s a respectable amount of traffic, but the vast majority of it is coming from links I’m posting on my personal facebook, and thus most readers of this blog are people who I recognize by face and name.
  2. Contrary to what Concerned Blog Reader implies, I’m not indiscriminately spreading Rory’s image and story all over the internet. I am sharing my own story as a new father. The past two posts have been about as in depth as this blog will ever get, in terms of sharing specifics about Rory himself. The primary focus of this blog will be my personal growth and development as a parent and how I’ll balance that responsibility with everything else in my life. This is a story that I have every right to tell.
  3. Parenting blogs are totally a thing! This blog is just one in a sea of dad and mom blogs, all of which inevitably share information about children who are too young to consent to an internet presence. Yes, parenting blogs present an ethical question, but where you fall on the issue is a matter of personal opinion, and in my opinion it’s not unethical to maintain a parenting blog and share information about your child, so long as you’re actively taking into account your family’s privacy and safety.
  4. I’m not scared of the internet. I think it’s worth noting that we currently live in a time when over 1.2 billion people share their identity and personal information on facebook. And that’s just facebook! We no longer live in a time when hiding behind a screen name is the norm. It’s hard to say where the internet will be by the time Rory’s old enough to care, but the trajectory seems headed toward more open sharing of personal information, and that’s not an inherently bad or dangerous thing. Shielding Rory from the reality of the internet might do him more harm than good in the long run.
  5. Given how normal it’s become to share personal information on the internet, I don’t see how posting Rory’s picture on this blog is any more an invasion of Rory’s privacy than bringing him into other public settings, like a crowded store or a restaurant.
  6. Consent is an interesting choice of word in this context. As Lauren wisely points out, parents or legal guardians are usually in charge of providing consent on behalf of their children. In the case of this dad blog, I’ve acquired the consent of both Rory’s parents to post our family’s personal content, including pictures of Rory.
  7. I still have plenty of time to delete this blog before it could become an issue for Rory.

So, all of this considered, I respectfully disagree with Concerned Blog Reader. I don’t believe this blog is invading Rory’s privacy and I don’t believe it’s putting him in any kind of substantial spotlight. However, I am paying close attention to how people interact with the information I’m sharing. I’ve already blocked one person on Instagram, and I’ll continue to create boundaries as needed in order to protect Rory’s privacy and safety.

I’m very interested in hearing what people think about this issue and I’m happy to discuss further in the comments.

three weeks.

And then the hospital bills came. And they were plentiful.

Rory is three weeks old and every day with him has been stellar. While his schedule is not built around our preferences, obviously, it’s still a schedule and we are adapting to it. The best advice we’ve received is to just go with Rory’s flow, feed him when he wants to be fed, interact with him when he’s alert, change his diaper when it’s dirty, burp him when he’s gassy, and forget about trying to regulate his activity until he’s at least two months old. We are tired, but we are happy and so is Rory.

Of course, my favorite time of the day is when Rory is alert. Usually he’s wide-eyed and playful for an hour or so in the late morning and again in the early evening. At three weeks old he is pretty limited in terms of activity. Right now we have two games:

1) I wave the activity elephant in front of his face for a while and wait for him to make this face:

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Then I move the activity elephant, squeak its little squeaky ear, and see if Rory follows the sound. We had about a 5% success rate with this game at two weeks old; now we’re getting closer to 33%.

2) I place him on his tummy and let him practice lifting up and moving his head from side to side. Rory is way ahead of the curve on this skill: at his two week doctor’s appointment, he managed to roll himself over from his belly to his back twice! The doctor was amazed and advised us to never leave him unattended lest he hurl himself off whatever furniture he’s on. He’s rolled over several times in the past week, at least once per tummy time session. Tummy time usually ends when Rory gets frustrated by his inability to crawl and breaks down into tears. Poor little guy.

Most of our time is spent in the endless cycle of eat, sleep, poop. I’m aware that this reality is a lot tougher for Lauren, at least until we initiate bottle feeding. I try to make up for it by doing the lion’s share of the housework and helping Lauren find opportunities to nap during the day. I’ve been impressed with how positive she’s remained despite having every reason to be burnt out. I suppose it helps that Rory is super adorable.

I’ve checked my work email just a few times since my paternity leave began. I’m not proud of that, but in each case it was for a specific reason and I didn’t linger for long. I am very grateful for the eight weeks paid leave, but I’m already feeling like it’s not going to be enough. I’ll be headed back to work right when the baby will begin truly recognizing my face and learning how to play and communicate in more sophisticated ways. Every hour away from Rory will feel like a missed opportunity.

I’m grateful though: for the eight weeks of leave that I do have, and for our ability to cover those aforementioned hospital bills without too much stress. Without an excess of additional things to worry about, we are able to focus most of our time on this guy:

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