Dear Js,

Before I became a dad, I used to wonder about what it meant to be one. Why did people do it? How does it make people happy? What will you miss if you didn’t experience it?

Yesterday, I finally cracked the code. I was reading Eric Hoffer’s True Believer and one line stuck out:

“We cannot be sure that we have something worth living for unless we are ready to die for it.”

You see, when someone becomes a parent, for the first time in their life, they experience the joy of putting someone else first. Not just sometimes. Not just loosely speaking. A helpless human becomes solely dependent on you.

It’s more than what you’d do for your parents, your siblings or even your spouse. With your child, it’s something else altogether. It won’t be just your brain saying it. There’s no risk-reward, cost-benefit analysis. It is primal. If there is a threat, papa becomes papa bear. And if you think an angry bear is scary… wait til you see a mother protecting her cubs. You do not mess with mama bears.

But why is having someone else your #1 priority a big deal? Well, because, if you never have kids, you will act selfishly most of your life. Your career, car, house, hobbies, toys, how you spend your time, etc. And no matter what you do, as long as your motivations are selfish, you will never find lasting happiness. I’m not just saying this to console myself for having to give up things as a dad. It is a fact: you are happier when you do things for others vs for yourself.

This is called the Hedonistic Paradox. Happiness cannot be acquired directly, only indirectly. [1] [2]. Yes, money can buy happiness. But only if you spend that money on someone else.

Because of this, having children is possibly the most meaningful (and therefore, joyful) thing a person can do in his or her life. It is one true source of lasting happiness, unlike anything else you do that only gives you happiness that fades.

But stick with me. This is where it gets strange. Doesn’t all this mean that parents should be the happy? Well, they would be if we embraced it. But what do most parents do instead? Even with this rare experience that can make you truly happy, parents send their children away to let someone else do the parenting for them… so they can keep grinding away at other things that only simulate and substitute happiness.

For instance, why are houses expensive? Well, housing prices are directly related to income and how much households are willing to pay for them. Since The Pill, more women are working. More women are earning more than their husbands. Women infidelity is rising. The number of stay-at-home dads is increasing. And so on.

As more women elect to work and delay motherhood, more mortgages are sustained by dual incomes. Here’s what’s twisted: When the children arrive, mommy can’t be with the children because she has to work because houses are expensive. And houses are expensive because moms work.

No, it’s not twisted. It’s sad. Here we have one of the most meaningful and happy things a human can do in his or her life. And most people find it an interruption. Instead of sacrificing work, they sacrifice time with their children. If we all decided to work less, we could spend more time with our kids and enjoy a higher quality of life. Prices would fall to a new equilibrium. But, the fact that you need two working parents to stay afloat tells you something about the choices the majority makes.

And it reveals a deeper disease: most people will never be happy. Not because happiness is an elusive unicorn. But because happiness can back up, run over them, sit on their heads and take a hot smelly dump and they still wouldn’t notice.

Speaking of happiness, Scabby is gone 🙁 You mourn the first loss of a good friend:

Then later, “NOOOOOO SCABBYYYY!” You become overwhelmed with grief.

But, misery loves company. We reminisced about our scabbies and that made you feel better. I told you I lost mine too. You stopped worrying about yours and comforted me.

The next day, we saw a girl fall off the sidewalk and into the street. We asked her if she was okay and she said yes, her dad was coming to help her. Her heel was bleeding. I told you that you felt better, so you didn’t need scabby. She fell down, so your scabby was going to help her now.

The lesson about FREE SAMPLES. You are starting to enjoy the samples at the Farmer’s Market on Sunday. You would eat a sample, then say MORE! And you think that just because we can have some for free, you can grab anything you see for free. So, it was lesson time.

I explained that the samples come from the farmers. They’re nice. Thank you, farmers. They let you try their fruits. But only one from each farmer. If you like it and you want more, we have to buy them. Zip zip your brain connects the dots and you yell to mama, “MAMA I NEED TO BUY MORE.” So that worked, but then we had to explain to you that we don’t want to buy peaches right now because we have some at home. I kept moving to look for more free samples to keep you from crying.

MEANWHILE, here’s the lesson other families teach about Free Samples: a mom brushed past me with a ziploc bag FULL of samples. It was the size of those vegetable plastic bags you get at supermarkets. It was transparent, so you could clearly see what and how much she grabbed from each stall. On her other arm was her kid trailing behind her, as she said, “Let’s go” on their way to the next stall. And at another stall where the farmer had set up 6 bins of peach samples, there was a grandpa having his breakfast. He stood there with his toothpick, stabbing and eating, stabbing and eating, stabbing and eating. He was there when we got there, he was still eating after left.

It was a treat to see some farmers actually try to sell us their fruits. The free samples strategy is okay (reciprocity), provided you target buyers. But at this market, you leave it to “hope” that a sampler is a buyer and not a moocher. It’s out of your control, and most of these animals are only interested in devouring your carcass and moving to the next.

But check this out: at one stall, a farmer was standing with a big melon next to his samples. He said you gotta try this. Mama tried a sample and said, “WOW!”, passed it to me, and I said WOW. He said, “I’m going to try to convince you to buy this melon.” My eyes opened. This could be interesting.

It was a four dollar melon. Keep in mind that this is Mountain View in Silicon Valley, in California… which makes up 14% of the US GDP and as has the same GDP as the whole of Canada. Yes, GDP is a bullshit metric, but what I’m saying is every single person at that Market can afford a $4 melon. A melon that size and quality would cost double in any supermarket nearby. So clearly, there are other objections.

To his credit, he countered all of mama’s objections swiftly. “It’s too big” – you can slice it down the middle, wrap it up and it keeps in your fridge for a week. “That’s too much” – you can slice it up, bla bla bla. However, all the questions were strictly about the MELON itself. They were trying to sell a melon as a melon. You don’t get much wiggle room that way. And you can’t detach product from price that way.

What they didn’t do was talk about how the melon could be enjoyed – “you could also eat it in this, mix it with that, here’s my grandma’s recipe for…” They also didn’t talk about feelings – “It’s hot. Melons are great for the summer.” They also didn’t stop to think about who shops at or why they shop at a Farmer’s Market: people who go out of their way to buy fresh and healthy for their family, and people who take an interest in taking care of themselves, exercise, etc. You don’t have to be a genius to notice that most people there had children. Mama had a baby J in the stroller and I had you in my arms. Yet they made no attempt to include both of you in the discussion. A mistake, because we care about you two more than anything in the world, including ourselves. If you want to separate price from product, you must talk about what is most important in someone’s life.

God, I’m preachy today. Anyway, when we got home I asked mama how much cash she had left in her pocket. She said $2. The melon guy was so happy he made his $4 sale that he didn’t realize that he could’ve easily made another $2. As long as he offered us something relevant to our family. Don’t tell him I had just gone to the ATM so I had even more cash in my wallet. Because of his limiting self beliefs, he doesn’t understand that we would’ve happily given him more money, if only he gave us a good reason to. (Hint: children are parents’ Kryptonite. And a tip: people will say yes to any ‘upgrade’ or subsequent offer, if it makes any sense at all.)

By the way, at the Market last week, you spun around my arms and body and shoulders like a monkey. Then you settled in my arms, and said “I’m a baby.” Then you said, “Goo,” imitating J2.

Summer fireworks. You liked the concept when we explained it. But when they popped in the dark, you had trouble sleeping for a few nights. You would stir every few minutes and say, “Daddy… Hug… Daddy… HUG… DADDY DADDY DADDY!” I figured you didn’t like it because you didn’t understand it. Finally, I took you outside with your stuffed friend Scout to see them. I wanted to bind the experience with something you knew, and something positive. So I said they look like dandelions. And we talked about the colors. I said Green… Red… and you jumped in, “Brown! Pink!” But as it got louder, you said you wanted to go back in. So we did. Then you said you wanted to see the fireworks. So we popped out again. Then you said you were all done. So back in again. You said you didn’t like the fireworks. I asked you if Scout liked it. You said, “Scout liked it!” and nodded. You slept soundly again after that.

Video time. Stomping on puddles:

Big jump:

Scooter tricks:

Not sure what this is…

J2 – you reminded me how J used to fuss and scream and cry when I held him as a baby. It bugged me that you two would instantly calm down when I pass you to mama. I know, I’m not comfy. I have no boobs and I have bones poking you everywhere. So it was a treat the other day when mama brought you to snuggle in bed with me one morning. You fell asleep in my arms. It feels good to know I can make you feel safe and comfortable.

J – you made mama melt. Here’s mama’s account: “As usual J arrives with daddy from the park yelling: “Dinnertime, I want my dinner!!!!” and then tried to climb on his chair. Luckily I had just enough time to get things ready after J2 finished nursing. As J eats his first mouthful he takes a second and says: “Mama, you made a nice dinner!”. What happened to mama? I think I exploded into a million heart shaped pieces . I will certainly continue to make my own pasta sauce if he likes it so much ♥♥♥.”

You also know more things now…

Knowing what being hungry means – From the backseat you said, “I’m hungry. My tummy tells me it’s hungry. It makes sound grogrigro. Like gas sounds. My body on the potty.”

Knowing how phones work – you picked up my old phone we gave you to play with, “I’m calling Han and Min so they come too the park. Hello? It’s not rining. My phone has no pictures.”

Knowing how words work:
Mama: “J can you tell me why?”
“Can you tell me why not?”
“Why not”

Knowing the days of the week – your teacher told us that you’re the only one in class who knows the days of the week. They were trying to teach your friends, but you wouldn’t let anyone else answer. “Do you know what today is?” You would yell, “WEDNESDAY! TODAY IS WEDNESDAY!” Yes J, we know you know your days of the week, but we have to give everyone else a chance. Can anyone else tell me the answer? Okay, you can tell us now… “WEDNESDAY! TODAY IS WEDNESDAY!”

Knowing you’re not the only one – “Who is saying my name daddy?” That boy there is calling his friend. His friend’s name is Joshua too. There are two Joshuas at the park. You got silent. You kept pedaling your bike. Then you said, “Two Joshuas… there are two Joshuas…” I wish I could have seen what explosions were happening in your head.

And… Knowing how to do this…

Mama gave up trying to stop you

Mama gave up trying to stop you

We visited Bing at Stanford. It’s a great place. If only every school should be like that. I learned a few new things from chatting with the Assistant Director who gave us a tour. For example, they don’t use praise there. Because praise is a weak motivator since it’s external. If a child comes to expect praise, he might only do something just for praise. On the other hand, you can facilitate a child’s inner curiosity and desires. This nurtures his natural motivations, and a child grows up into an adult who does things for himself instead of for validation from others.

So I thought, this is good stuff. They’re at the leading edge of child development. Why aren’t they publishing a magazine for parents? There is a “Psychology Today” magazine. Why not Bing today? Wouldn’t parents want to know what the secrets, recommendations and latest breakthroughs of the world’s premier child educators? Wouldn’t parents feel like they’re missing out if their peers talk about, “Did you read that article in Bing Today?” I think so.

Anyway, if you Js get in, I might have motivation to persuade these academics that their information is more valuable than for journal papers, and help them publish their information to parents for profit. You mom says they’ll be uninterested because they have ample funding. I said they have ample funding because they have small dreams. Sure, they have ample funding for their tiny nursery. But only a tiny group of children can experience their tiny nursery. This kind of education is something more children ought to have.

But you know what made me sad? I saw a bunch of kids hammering nails into boards. And pulling the nails out. And building things with wood. And the teachers doing a fine job guiding them through the activity. But I thought of how this is what I ought to have time to do with you every day. When I snapped out of my daydream, the tour group had moved on. I ran to catch up with the rest of the tour.

Encouraged to try what we learned at Bing – drop off letters:

He wanted to go to the different parking lot today. When I turned the car off in the CCLC lot, he cried. So I tried the Bing idea of going deeper down the logic chain of consequences. I usually stop at one or two, but this time I dissected every reason why.

I explained that the CCLC lot is closer, the other parking lot is farther, and if it’s farther, we have to walk longer. If we have to walk longer, we might miss snack time. We only park in the other parking lot if this one is full. He kept crying as if he didn’t hear me, but then maybe something kicked in, because he instantly stopped crying and said, “There are two cars with a wheel in the back.” So we talked about the red car and silver car with the wheel in the back.

On the way in, we saw Ms Marissa and Natalie. Natalie jumped in front of us and asked with a smile, “Are you happy now?” I asked J, “Are you happy now?” He said “YA” and nodded. GOOD MORNING FRIENDS. J didn’t want to help me put things away. His hands were full with his jars of Play-Doh. I asked Ms Marissa if it was too late for snack and she said no.

She put down a brown raisin granola sticky stick thing. J said try it daddy. I said mmmm yummy. He said, “Eat it all daddy.” Then Ms Marissa gave him a cheese stick and that he sat down for. While he was eating I showed him the “linking flowers” that the new Chinese girl was playing with. He finished his cheese stick and gave me his Play-Doh.

He seemed more confident than usual. He rummaged through the basket with a purpose. He kept some pieces he picked, and he threw others away. I showed him how to link them. He didn’t seem to interested. He was collecting white pieces. Then I showed him again, and he helped push one piece in. He said, “DINOSAUR!” He showed it to the Chinese girl, “DINOSAUR!” She showed us her piece and said, “XIIAHOSHrrrbhbl” and I said that’s cool. Then Natalie came by with some blocks and said “TOWER!” Joshua said, “DINOSAUR!” Then Natalie said, “Tower in the tissue box!”

I said hug me tight. He didn’t look at me, but he smiled and shuffled backward into my chest. I squeezed him and said bye. Then J started spinning around and dancing with his Dinosaur in one hand and loose pieces in the other hand. He saw me leaving and I waved and blew him a kiss. He turned away and paused. I stepped out and peeked in. He resumed dancing.

“I want to go a different way”

We went a “different way” today because the parking lot was full. The different parking lot was full too. So he said I want to go to the line with the cars. I asked, “The line next to the street?” He said ya. So we parked on the street. I took him out and asked him, “Where is your school?” He looked around and said ummmm…. OVER THERE. He got it right.

The moment we got inside, he said, OWL OWL OWL OWL and pointed to his owl. Then Natalie came over and said can I see your owl? He said no.

He sat down for breakfast. There was the same raisin granola sticky slab of something again, which he didn’t touch. He ate the peaches, so I gave him more from the bowl next to him.

I showed him the alphabet puzzles. I put one in front of his face while he was eating (he was looking elsewhere). I pointed to the train set on the other table. Natalie got attracted by the alphabet puzzle I showed J and she came over. I played with her a little bit.

Then J came over with his owl. He was dancing and singing and showing me M for MAMA. After it looked like he was getting into the activity, I said, Joshua, hug me. For the first time, he turned around, smiled, stretched his arms wide and hugged me. I asked him if he knew where I had to go. He said work. So I said goodbye I love you mama picking you up I’ll see you later and he started singing and spinning around and dancing.

As I walked to the door, he and Natalie looked like they were going somewhere or chatting about something. When I peeked from outside, he walked himself over to look into the baskets where they kept the blocks.

First time you waved bye at drop off!

By the way, I forgot to mention.

J waved bye today!

I gave him his stickers during the car ride. Since he can peel them off now, when I opened the door, he had dinosaurs on his arms:



He kept checking his arms on the way to class and he walked with his arms forward like a robot. One dinosaur was near his the fold of his elbow, so he was afraid to bend it when he was eating his snack because he didn’t want it to fall off. I said I can take care of that one for you, and he said, “Daddy, take it.”

JP’s mom Fran was there visiting. So we chatted a little. J finished his snack, then walked around the room with me. I hugged him and tried to say bye but he was calling for me a little because he was done with his snack quick today. So I showed him a bunch of things he could play with.

He went to the baskets of toys. I asked him which one he wanted. He said THIS ONE. It was the one with the trucks and cars. So I said “Use two hands and pull it out.” Ryan came over to show me his white Porsche.

Then when the time felt right, I tried to say goodbye again. He hugged me, then walked around near the door, dancing a little, singing a little. I said, “Bye Joshua!” He looked to me and raised his hand. It wasn’t a full wave – more like a quarter-circle turn with his palm.

Mama’s response: I’m so happy that he is feeling so confident! Maybe I bring him something special today :). heh so funny to read this when this morning all he wanted to do was sleep on mama. At one point I was on my side nursing Julia while Joshua rested his head on the nook of my waist and tried to figure out how to get even closer lol.



P.S. – Jeeze… I don’t know how I’m going to keep up with this writing when you start doing more things, J2…

P.P.S. – J2 mama took you to laser zap away your lip and tongue tie. You returned with lips like Angelina Jolie. Now your tongue stretches farther, it doesn’t vibrate when you cry and it flanges nicely when you feed. You can thank your mom that you don’t have a huge gap in your front teeth.

P.P.P.S. – J1 – you’re rewriting your earliest memories as you recall them. That’s how memory works anyway – remembering is a destructive/reconstructive process. You remember we went to the island and the beach. You remember that we went there on a boat. You also remember you had your own yellow boat (float). But you also remember things that weren’t there, like your friends, your bicycle, our neighbors Sam & Syd, etc. You wanted to share you island with them.

Good night: