Diapers & Degrees

It was around noon, and I was in the men’s room at Target with my five-month-old daughter. The wall-mounted Koala changing table had seen better days, but I was just glad there was one in the men’s room at all. It was clear, though, that installing the changing table was an afterthought because it completely blocked access to the hand dryers. As my daughter squirmed and screamed while I changed her diaper, other men had to decide whether to reach over my shoulder to dry their hands, or to just use their pants. I struggled to maintain composure, wishing I could say that was the only time I had cried in Target that week. As I finished up I asked myself through eyes filled with tears, “How had my life come to this?”

The past year has been one of shifting roles. I quit a tour-guiding career of eight years (which is long for a 30 year old), became a father, and finished grad school. With my new roles came a shift not only in what I do, but also in who I am.

The biggest transition has been from working 40-60 hours a week to being the primary caretaker of my daughter. I have never been good at errands—even simple errands done on my own would exhaust me. So, the prospect of running most or all of the errands for our family with a baby was daunting, if not petrifying. It did not go well at first, which made me question whether I could even be a stay-at-home dad. I wanted so badly to take care of our daughter so my wife wouldn’t have to run errands and care for the home as well as work. The chalkboard-painted wall I used for my to-do list was a constant source of anxiety motivating me more to escape and watch Netflix than to be productive.

Thankfully I started to get better. I hadn’t realized how much practice errands and housekeeping would take in order to do it well. Over the past four months, since defending my thesis, I have grown tremendously in my competency as a stay-at-home dad. I can even enjoy multitasking—managing a list of things to do all while keeping a 10 month old alive and happy. That’s not to say everything is perfect. My daughter’s newest favorite pastime—pulling her bib off while I’m feeding her—is a lot for me to handle, and I get jealous seeing my wife come home and have so much energy to play with her and make her laugh while I often can only muster the energy to prevent her from melting down. I’m sure this too shall pass and I am getting better at finding joy in the present with her and cherishing every little step in her development.

When I’m not chasing after my increasingly fast and destructive daughter, I am attempting to start a career. After years of work and late night study sessions I finally finished grad school in December, and I am applying for teaching jobs. There is a sense of being in the wilderness during this transition, not knowing the path or even the destination. Early on I was feeling lost and hopeless about job prospects. This brought about financial worries and brought up deep insecurities around my fear of being rejected or passed over by prospective employers. You might even call it a mini existential crisis. After some great encouragement from a friend and my wife, and a lot of prayer, these feelings have lessened. I have come to see being in the wilderness as an important experience that allows me to develop patience and reflect on other shortcomings and insecurities. I’ve even been able to see very clearly the providence of God through a few extra jobs and medical expense reimbursements and aide.

IMG_0109Practicing patience and silence is difficult in a time where all I want to do is stress and vacillate between escapism and attempting to solve everything on my own because God is taking too long. Thankfully I have an adorable little companion to practice with and learn from. This morning I spent time in the amazing San Francisco Botanical Gardens with her. As I pushed my daughter in her stroller, along the small dirt paths through the Native California garden, I talked to her about each of the different plants that we passed and we sat and admired them together. Sometimes she would reach out to grab the plants. Taking time to feel, smell, and taste them, to experience them for the first time. At one point she grabbed a California Poppy, my favorite flower which I learned to love during my years driving a bus. This particular poppy was the only one in bloom in the entire garden. I watched her discover for the first time something I have loved and cherished for years. It was so beautiful. I’m not sure what it means, if it means anything, but I will never forget the overwhelming feelings of love for my daughter and God’s love for me in that moment in the garden.

Being a stay-at-home-dad and struggling to find work was never in my five- or ten-year plan. I may have never asked for this experience, and I did not know what it would require of me, but I am grateful for it. There will certainly be other unexpected roles that will challenge me in the future, and I will greet them with fear and trembling knowing that whatever they are, they will bring me closer to God.

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Gluch Bio Pic“Diapers and Degrees” was written by Danny Gluch. Danny grew up in the suburbs of LA with his parents and older brother. He moved to the Bay Area in 2002 and has enjoyed calling San Francisco home ever since. Currently, he, his wife, their daughter, and their dog Madison call the Mission District of SF home. After struggling to find an enjoyable area of graduate study, he found the Philosophy program at San Francisco State University, where he recently earned his MA writing his thesis in Feminist Ethics and Moral Psychology. Any extra time is spent with his church community, or playing golf (or practicing golf, or thinking about golf). Find Danny on Twitter @danandstephinsf.

A Grocer’s Daughter

I grew up in a grocery story. This is a family story that began before I was born. My father began working in the early fifties as a bag boy (also known then as a sacker)  for a small grocery chain near Nashville, Tennessee. He and my mother met in the store, and a romance that began with a smile ended up at the end of an aisle—a church aisle.

By the time Dad’s little pumpkin, as he liked to call me, entered the world, he was moving up the hierarchy of management. When I was eight years old, a new store in the chain opened, and Dad was appointed the manager. I knew my Daddy was THE BOSS, and visions of free Hershey Bars danced in my head.

When I accompanied my mother to do the grocery shopping, my dad would often walk with me to the cold drink machine (pronounced cold “drank” by some Southerners). The machine was located next to the shelves lined with Cheetos–the puffy kind that painted my fingers orange—and other salty snacks: Mr. Peanut peanuts, crispy pork rinds, corn chips, and skinny, fat-enriched potato sticks in a can. My cold “drank” of choice was Nehi Orange in a glass bottle, purchased for a dime. I’d stick the coin in a slot, open the machine door, grab the neck of the bottle, give it a tug, and out it came, cold and sweaty in my hand.

On the weekends, the “sample lady,” Mrs. Wise, served small cups of the store brand coffee, “Fit For A King,” and petite biscuits filled with Tennessee country sausage. The fragrance of breakfast greeted the customers as soon as they crossed the threshold of the store. Mrs. Wise was gracious to me and turned her head, pretending not to notice the multiple times I swiped biscuits from her serving tray.

In that store, I received a cornucopia of knowledge about fruit and vegetables from my dad. Tap a watermelon. If it sounds hollow, it is ripe and ready to cut, eat, and let the juice run down your chin. A ripe cantaloupe smells sweet. Pull back the husk of an ear of corn and look for plump rows of kernels unblemished by rotten or wormy areas.

Dad bought “local” from area farmers before “local” was part of the American food conversation. Clear glass jars of dark amber sorghum molasses made by a nearby Mennonite community enticed customers with the promise of a sweet, thick, syrupy spread for a hot buttered biscuit. Freshly dug sweet potatoes were piled high in bins, ready to accompany a customer home for baking or to use in a Thanksgiving casserole with sticky marshmallows on top.

My dad is eighty-four now, and he does the grocery shopping for himself and my mom. When I visit them, I enjoy accompanying him to a large, sprawling market unlike the grocery store where I grew up. As he gets in the car, he pats his shirt pocket to check if his coupons have stayed put. His eyes light up as he tells me the latest prices for items and compares them to the prices during his days at the helm of his store.

As soon as we enter through the sliding glass doors, Dad steps nimbly and heads for the produce section, leaving me behind as I struggle to pull out a shopping buggy that is stuck to the one in front of it. I see him from afar surveying the displays and posted prices.

I catch up with him and say, “You ran off and left me.”

He walks with purpose like a physician on her hospital rounds examining patients. He thumps and listens, feels and sees as he diagnoses the health of the produce with ease and expertise.

I look at his hands, speckled with age, and I am thankful for the work of those hands and his kindnesses to customers and vendors, and to me. I remember the fizzy, orange taste of a Nehi, the clink of the glass bottle against my teeth, and the fragrance of sausage frying and coffee brewing.

“Come on,” Dad says. “I need to get some yogurt for your mama.”

As I turn my buggy around, I tap the corner of a display of red polished apples and several roll from top to bottom. I quickly rearrange the wayward apples.

As always, I’m a grocer’s daughter.

Fruit and Vegetable Market