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Food service, waste management – one father’s mantra

March 28, 2019

As published in the Daily Hampshire Gazette March 26, 2019

Spring has arrived, again. Sitting at the kitchen table, sipping a cup of jasmine tea as pink hues reached upward from the horizon and the sun peeked through our window, I witnessed this annual truth.

Here in New England, as I imagine is so in other northern climes, our response is muted, knowing, from experience, that spring’s early days are tentative, the prospect of additional snow and ice more likely than not.

Still, for me, the arrival and end of each season offer an opportunity — a moment to look inward, asking myself — what do I endeavor?

As a father to Zoe and Adam, fast approaching 13 and 10, and a husband to their mother, Lori, for almost 14 years, life has revealed that answers to this question is both elusive and evolving.

Early on, I fathered with the zeal of a mountain climber and distance runner, yearning and enduring as I raced toward the summit and finish line of my own making. While the pace was both exhilarating and exhausting, I never quite reached my destinations. I was on a mission, seeking to prove to myself, no doubt others as well, that I could father in just the right way — any day, anytime and anywhere.

This approach helped me maintain my focused devotion to family. It has also proved limiting, a lesson I have slowly come to accept. The day-to-day experience of fatherhood, marriage and work — of life — have ground me down, softening my edges as running water patiently and skillfully turns jagged rock into smooth stone.

But now, fatherhood — especially as Zoe and Adam seemingly defy the laws of physics by aging more rapidly than Lori and I do — has become more about mantra than mission. Aspirations of notable status in my one wild and precious life have been subsumed by a more humbling calling –  food service and waste management.

The well-known Zen Buddhist proverb, “Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water,” for centuries has intoned that to become successful at anything one must tend to the basics, and after achieving success one must still tend to the basics. The message is that how we do one thing (the simple things) is how we do everything (all the rest).

Enlightenment aside, I do hold high expectations of myself — as a father, and in general. It has been particularly useful, therefore, to realize and consistently remind myself, that success comes from, and is sustained by, tending to the basic elements that nurture our family — food service, waste management.

Of course, some days things fall apart for our family. One kid has the stomach flu, the other has a friend conflict. The toilet is clogged, the pantry is bare, the trash can is overflowing, the laundry is piling up, the car needs new breaks and work deadlines abound. In these moments, it’s grounding to remember that my role as a father includes tending to the essentials – food service, waste management.

And while Lori and I work effectively as a team, together tending to our family’s basic needs, food service, waste management — like chop wood, carry water — is simple in concept but difficult in practice.

Still, this mantra has come to repetitiously guide the daily meditation of my fatherhood experience. And so, as the earth softens, green life reemerges and birdsongs abound once more, I continue to endeavor, ever so gratefully, for success in my highest calling — fatherhood — through food service and waste management.

John Engel of Florence can be reached through his website

Solving a cube comes full circle

February 27, 2019

As published in the Daily Hampshire Gazette February 27, 2019

It started with a gift. It was not the biggest package under the tree, but, in time, perhaps one that brought the most joy — and frustration.

As our son, Adam, peeled back the wrapping paper, a smile filled his face and he triumphantly thrust the object upward, arm fully stretched, “A Rubik’s Cube,” he declared.

Later that day, after the gifts had been opened; the homemade pancakes, locally crafted maple syrup and seasoned turkey sausage had been consumed; and we had returned from a hike, Adam began to play with his cube.

Each face of the six-sided object included three rows, each with three small squares. At the start, the nine small squares on each face are a uniform color — red, blue, green, yellow, orange and white. As Adam twisted and turned the vertical columns and horizontal rows — up, down, left, right — the Basic 3 x 3 Cube transformed into a random mix of colors all-around.

Adam was instantly intrigued by the mystery of the cube, seeking to understand how it could be manipulated back to its original form. It did not take long for his eight-year-old mind to reach a level of frustration and defeat that I recall experiencing as a teenager, when the cube craze emerged in the U.S. during the 1980s.

Word of Adam’s gift, along with his joy and mounting frustration, reached my father-in-law, Ken, when we video conferenced from our living room in Massachusetts to their home in Florida. Seeing the cube in Adam’s hands rekindled Ken’s interest in the mind-bending puzzle, recounting how he, too, had been captured by its allure years ago.

When our family traveled to Florida in February, Ken, affectionately known to Adam and big sister, Zoe, as Poppy, encouraged Adam to bring his new toy. Poppy had bought his own cube in anticipation of our visit and, according to Granny, had become obsessed with solving it.

So, shortly after our arrival, Poppy sat with Adam and showed him written formulas and patterns — algorithms — he retrieved from the internet that are used to solve the cube. This methodical approach suited Poppy, who in the 1950s was first schooled in electronics and electrical engineering while serving in the U.S. Navy, aboard one of the first nuclear submarines.

The Beginner’s Cube Sequence includes a series of nine formulas, which are written as strings of letters, including — F (front), U (up), R (right), B (back), L (left) and D (down). Each letter by itself represents a 90-degree clockwise turn and a letter followed by an apostrophe means a 90-degree-counter-clockwise turn.

The first of nine algorithms read:  U’ L’ U L U F U’ F’, whereby one holds the cube in the left hand, puts the right hand in the top corner and proceeds — up counter-clockwise, left counter-clockwise, up clockwise, left clockwise, up clockwise, forward clockwise, up counter-clockwise and forward counter-clockwise. In step two, while holding the cube horizontally, complete the second formula: F R U R’ U’ F. After completing all nine formulas, without any mistakes, the cube is solved, back to six faces of uniform color.

Adam quickly grew frustrated as he attempted to practice the algorithms. My own mind struggled to grasp the mathematical sequencing, too, and I quickly concluded that despite Poppy’s best intentions, Adam was not quite ready for such sophisticated methods. By the end of the trip, however, while Adam had not solved the cube, he was increasingly able to memorize and apply the patterned moves, with lots of patient coaching from Poppy, which was a gift in itself.

Back home, Adam continued to follow the written formulas, occasionally seeking additional coaching during weekly video conference calls, and within a couple months was victorious in his quest to solve the cube. After some weeks and a number of successes, the cube sat on Adam’s desk collecting dust, until summer when he and Poppy reengaged their growing love of cubing at the family beach house in Connecticut. Adam became more proficient, but come fall the cube, once again, sat unused in his room.

A year after receiving the gift, Adam reportedly bored during the days between Christmas and New Year’s Day, returned to his cube. Resourcefully, he used the family iPad to find the formulas he had lost, writing them down in his notebook and proceeding to find and view YouTube videos about solving the cube.

This time, success came more quickly and easily and, inspired by videos of international competitions he found online, Adam began to time his efforts in what is referred to as speedcubing, where the world record for solving the Basic 3 x 3 is 4.22 seconds! Soon, what initially had taken Adam months, he could routinely accomplish in under two minutes.

With the money he earned shoveling snow for a neighbor, Adam logged onto Amazon and bought a set of speedcubes, which are designed to spin quickly; it was a four-pack with 2 x 2, 3 x 3, 4 x 4, and 5 x 5 cubes. More YouTube videos and new algorithms furthered Adam’s cubing obsession. Then, in a very sweet gesture, Adam logged onto Amazon and purchased a 2 x 2 speed cube and had it sent to Florida so that he can teach Poppy how to speedcube during our next visit.

I am fond of saying to Zoe and Adam that there is always more than one way to solve a problem or a puzzle. In this case, one gift led to another, and another, showing that for Adam and his Poppy, a circle — the circle of giving — is the best way to solve a cube.

John Engel of Florence can be reached through his website

Father’s intention to practice more kindness

December 31, 2018

A father’s intention to practice more kindness

Recently, a Kindness Calendar arrived in my inbox. It was Thanksgiving weekend, when conversations in our home were about family and gratitude. I printed the one-page calendar, noting that each day of the month was a simple, suggested act of kindness, printed in a colorful square.

“December 1: Encourage more kindness. Share this calendar with others,” appeared in a red square. So, I taped the calendar to the bottom edge of the world map, which hangs on the wall in full view from our kitchen table. I mentioned the calendar during dinner and invited us, individually and as a family, to consider doing some of the listed actions.

Coincidentally, we had already planned a family act of kindness, which aligned with the second (green) square.

December 2:  Support a charity, cause or campaign you really care about. Gathered around our table, enjoying bowls of steaming, homemade, potato soup, daughter Zoe reflected, with enthusiasm, that we were two for two because we had participated in the 5K Hot Chocolate Run that morning – an annual fundraising event that raises awareness about the need to end domestic violence and relationship abuse.

Early successes helped build momentum and without much effort we were on the path to many acts of kindness that month, including Zoe leaving positive notes for others to find, and younger brother Adam offering spontaneous hugs to family members. My wife, Lori, and I were delighted with the rippling kindness.

Along the way I was inspired to learn more and visited the website of the organization that produced the calendar, The site includes calendars, classes and additional resources, including a two-minute video entitled ‘The Science of Kindness.’

I learned that kindness is considered an interpersonal skill that, not surprisingly, is developed through practice. Kindness – the quality of being friendly, considerate and generous – is linked to greater life satisfaction and lower stress. In short, being kind feels good and releases chemicals within the body that promote calmness, happiness, healing and lower blood pressure – for the person who acts with kindness, the person to whom kindness is offered and to people who witness an act of kindness.

All that goodness can result from simply engaging in one daily, random act of kindness! While this is compelling reason to engage in serial acts of kindness, I admit there are times when I am just not in the mood and don’t want to be bothered with acting kindly. It’s not that I ever want to be mean-spirited or disinterested, I just have my kindness button on pause, I rationalize.

This left me wondering, though, “What gets in the way of my desire to act kindly towards others, especially those I love most, as well as strangers and those whom I find challenging?” Feeling tired or stressed, are the usual culprits, yet I know I am capable of being kind when I experience those feelings.

Doing a bit more reading, a revelation awaited me in an article entitled, “A Kinder World Begins with YOU.” One message of the article is that it’s much easier to act kindly toward someone when we regularly act kindly toward ourselves, and conversely, when we rarely act with kindness toward ourselves it is more difficult to act kindly toward others. The wisdom encoded in this belief produced an Aha! Moment, for me – a moment when, despite the obvious ad profound nature of the message, and the fact that I am sure I have heard this before – I began to understand and accept the idea at a much deeper level.

The answer to my original question about what gets in the way of acting kindly toward others is really nested in the question of what gets in the way of me acting kindly toward myself. While I have some initial thoughts, that’s a question that warrants much more consideration.

In the meantime, our family continues to be inspired by the Kindness Calendar. Even Santa (actually it was Mrs. Claus) supported our family efforts by slipping into each Christmas stocking a tiny tin labeled Be Kind, which includes 18 cards with a prompt for an act of kindness.

Heading into the New Year, I decided to make kindness my central theme for 2019, when I will endeavor to frequently exercise my kindness muscles, including being more kind to myself so that I can be more kind to others. I’m feeling optimistic that the ripple effect of kindness in our family will spark more kindness for others too. Imagine the possibilities…including bumper stickers, too, which read:  Make America (more) Kind Again.

John Engel of Florence can be reached through his website

Celebrating Halloween in Frightening Times

November 14, 2018

As published in the Daily Hampshire Gazette, Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Halloween is my favorite holiday. As a kid I probably would have ranked Santa above jack-o-lanterns, but, as an adult, and especially as a father, I have come to newly, appreciate the significance of this autumnal celebration.

For daughter Zoe and son Adam, now 12 and 9 years of age, talk of Halloween starts in September, just as they settle into the rhythm of school schedules. This year they unpacked boxes of decorations in the basement art studio and secretly planned upgrades for their spooky front-yard scape. Reflecting their growing maturity, they assured my wife, Lori, and me, that putting up Halloween decorations before October 1st was excessive, though quickly realizing that date was a Monday, they decided September 30 was a reasonable alternative.

Adam’s circular, front-yard, flower garden became a creepy graveyard, where dying marigolds were replaced with handmade tombstones, a skeleton figure and sunken shovel. Giant spider webs of fine, silk-like thread material stretched over shrubs and porch railings. A scarecrow — old clothes stuffed with dry leaves from the sugar maples lining the southern edge of our yard — sat in a lawn chair, a straw hat perched on its basketball head. Strings of orange lights outlined the front window and breezeway and, eventually, two carved pumpkins were added to the steps, welcoming visitors at our front door.

Their timely efforts and boundless energy left a full month to create costumes. Zoe decided to be a peacock. She made a shawl from a piece of fabric, to which she hot-glued colorful feathers; cut cardboard wings from a box, which she painted purple, sprinkled with glitter and attached elastic bands for looping around her biceps; and repurposed a feathery mardi gra mask, a relic from Lori’s past, adding both a festive and nostalgic flair to her aesthetically pleasing attire.

Adam’s outfit reflected a decidedly ghoulish motif. He upgraded the full-body skeleton costume he wore last year, by wearing carefully ripped old clothing over the skeleton features and drippling fake blood on the exposed bones and skull-mask. I thwarted his initial plans to add a store-bought, fake battle axe, intoning that it might terrify the preschoolers and kindergartners at his school’s Halloween parade. We settled on a walking staff with a tiny skull mounted on top, a compromise that leaned more to his favor than mine.

A week before the big day, Zoe and Adam confidently shared, with Lori and me, upgrades to their trick-or-treating route, announcing, matter-of-factly, they would be traveling without us this year. That Lori and I would even consider approving their plan, says much about the nature of our neighborhood and community — and my growing appreciation for Halloween.

Roughly one-block from our home, along the main thorough fare that runs through our village, sits a small community park. Each Halloween many hundreds of costumed people of all ages gather, share laughter, snap photos and delight in the scene, more festive than macabre. After nightfall, at the family-friendly hour of 6:00 p.m., local police temporarily close the main street, and a rag shag parade meanders four blocks to the civic center, smiling onlookers lining the route. Eventually the crowd spills into the surrounding neighborhoods where porch lit homes and troves of treats await.

The child in me loves the sense of joy that Halloween brings to children and adults alike, and I’m inspired by Adam’s and Zoe’s creativity and initiative.

For me though, Halloween has come to offer a broader, social narrative, too. When children confidently navigate neighborhoods, march up porch stairs, pound on doors and ring bells, project their voices in a reciprocal exchange — tricks for treats — with strangers, they are actively experiencing and creating a sense of community. And, when adults and children join together, wearing silly or spooky costumes, and stroll through the village center, it’s a joy-filled, intergenerational act of reclaiming public spaces to foster safety and community connection.

In Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, first published in 2000 and updated in 2012, acclaimed sociologist Robert Putnam observed that Americans have become increasingly disconnected from friends, neighbors and their communities. The book’s title is derived from Putnam’s observation that while the number of Americans who bowl has increased over the years, the number of Americans who participate in bowling leagues — and a long list of other forms of community and civic engagement — has dramatically declined.

Putnam’s insights seem frightfully accurate in our current, politically divisive and perilous times. Still, I am heartened that while nationally we are bowling alone, in our local communities — ours and no doubt many others — we are not trick-or-treating alone. It’s a small but promising sign, and a reminder that creating safe and connected communities is the trick to ensuring the treat we call democracy.

John Engel of Florence can be reached through his website

Broken Car – Opportunity to Strengthen Community

November 14, 2018

As published in the Daily Hampshire Gazette, Thursday, October 25, 2018

Inevitably, when I travel for work, something at home breaks. So, in preparation for a recent trip, I proposed a new family agreement. If something breaks and requires my attention when I’m away — unless it’s an emergency — I don’t want to hear about it when I walk in the door; the next morning is soon enough.

Of course, something broke while I was away — and it was an emergency, or at least in urgent need of repair. Actually, the break started an hour before I departed for my trip. While returning home from delivering son Adam to soccer practice, a loud noise erupted from under the car I was driving, the older, but generally reliable, of our two family-vehicles.

It sounded as if I had hit an object on the road and that the object ricocheted up, hitting the bottom of the car, so I hoped. But the road was clear and glancing in the rearview window confirmed the absence of any debris.

At home, I wiggled part way under the front end of the vehicle to grab hold of different parts, testing to see if anything was loose. Standing, I grabbed with both hands under the front fender and pulled up and down. Then I pushed down on the fender, repeatedly rocking the car. Though I could not identify any obvious problem, I had an uneasy feeling about the situation.

It was too late to rent a car and first thing in the morning I was due to start leading a three-day professional training more than 100 miles from home — not something I could reschedule. So, since my wife Lori would only need to make short trips in town while I was away, I headed off in our newer vehicle, leaving the suspect car at home.

The next day, back in my hotel room and before leaving for dinner, I called to check-in with Adam and big sister Zoe about their day. During the call, my wife Lori arrived home and shared that while returning from work a loud noise exploded from under the front end of the car and the steering immediately started pulling to the right.

We decided the vehicle was unsafe to drive and began problem solving how Lori — who works full time and is a graduate student — would navigate life with two kids, and no car while I was away. She and the kids focused on scheduling rides and I focused on fixing the car.

Immediately, Adam, distraught about missing open house at his school that night, sprang into action and asked a neighbor for support. They gladly agreed to fit Lori, Zoe and Adam — along with their family of four — into their mini-van, to and from the school event.

For the next two days, Lori patched together rides to and from work with a colleague and neighbor. Friends with whom we often carpool for gymnastics practice did double duty, ensuring that Zoe and her friend, made it to and from the YMCA.

Zoe, who generally commutes to middle school by bike, rode with a neighbor on the day when heavy rain would have made for a challenging ride, and Adam routinely made use of the school bus, that stops less than one block from our home, to get to and from his elementary school.

From afar, I downloaded an app from our insurance carrier and scheduled a tow-truck to take the disabled vehicle from our driveway to a preferred repair shop. Fortunately, the cost of the tow was covered by our insurance and the driver, who called me to confirm details when he arrived at our home, was timely, friendly and helpful.

From my hotel room, I placed an early morning call to our trusted, long-time mechanic, who promptly made room in the schedule for our car. Hours later I had a message that the car needed struts and springs replaced and that the parts were already ordered. It was not an inexpensive repair, but still better than a new car payment. The car was repaired and, thanks to another neighbor who drove Lori to the repair shop, was back home before my return.

When I walked in the door, there were lots of hugs and kisses. And, just as I had requested, there was no mention of anything that needed to be fixed. Instead, at supper, we raised our glasses and toasted the sweetness of community, and the wonderful support of friends, neighbors and local businesses.

As Lori and I reflected on the experience, we observed that it’s often much easier to offer support than to ask for it. We speculated that if we were more comfortable seeking support from others that perhaps they would more readily reach out to us in times of need, too.

So, I have proposed a new family agreement. When things break — ours or our neighbor’s, whether or not I am traveling — let’s consider it an opportunity to strengthen community connections, and not merely a problem to fix. And while that’s not exactly a new idea, it’s a welcome reminder when I travel for work, or any time.

John Engel of Florence can be reached through his website

Listening to night sounds, and more

September 30, 2018

Listening to night-sounds, and more

As published in the Daily Hampshire Gazette, Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Recently our family enjoyed our week-long end-of-summer tradition: camping along the shores of Lake Champlain.

The Adirondack Mountains tower to the west, to the east rise the Green Mountains, and the lake stretches north, crossing the Canadian border into Quebec.

In this place — now sacred to our family — at the shore’s edge, around the campfire and under the cover of sugar maples, red oaks and white pines, there is space and time for my wife, Lori, and me to notice and appreciate the ways in which our daughter, Zoe, and son, Adam, have matured since our last visit.

So after rushing to wrap up work details, jamming loads of gear into the car, driving four hours, setting up camp and then starting to relax, we were all excited to crawl into our family tent, where we each lay silently reading, as the coals from our first campfire of the trip grew dim. One by one headlamps switched off, as tiredness gave way to sleep — for the others — while I lay listening to the night sounds.

The sounds seemed to grow louder as I listened, almost overwhelmingly so. I noticed the steady buzz was really an uninterrupted cacophony of discrete sounds. I was certain some sounds were crickets, emitting chirps by rubbing a hind leg and wing together. I later learned that katydids, also called tree crickets, which play their song by rubbing wings together, were also members of this nocturnal ensemble. Together, these tiny creatures created a pulsing rhythm comprised of high and low pitches, and a whirling and winding that would crescendo, then start anew, endlessly, throughout the night.

How many crickets and katydids inhabit the woods surrounding our tent, I wondered. How distant does the sound of a single cricket, and a chorus, travel? How long does a cricket chirp — do they tire and take a break while others sing, or do they all continuously chirp until morning’s light? I wondered, too, what the sounds meant: what were the inhabitants of these woods speaking — and hearing — each night?

The nightly practice of listening and wondering attuned my hearing to other sounds as well. Each evening, as Adam and I strolled to and from the campground’s showers, his inner thoughts spilled into the cool, quiet air.

“Why is campground toilet paper so thin,” he mused one night, which led to a conversation about the seemingly unrelated topics of economics and wiping, as we strolled back to our tent.

“Can you snort?” he rhetorically asked, on another evening’s walk. Without pausing, he continued, as if he had rehearsed a demonstration speech for school. “I have three snorts. A short – snort! A long – s n o r t! And a loud – SNORT!! I can make music.” And, he did.

Each cloudless night, amidst a string of other topics, we noticed the night sky, too. Adam wondered aloud about the stars, planets and the glow of the waxing, nearly full moon, revealing mysteries of his richly, developing mind and curiosity.

My listening — to Adam and the crickets — deepened during our week in the woods, bringing me closer to my surroundings, family and myself. And with Adam now 9 years-old (as of 12:40 p.m. on the day we drove to the campground!) and Zoe nearing 12, my wife Lori and I realize the importance of preserving this — and other — family rituals, cherishing the special moments, close connection and life insights they afford.

So, at 9:00 a.m. sharp, on the first business day of September, I logged onto the campground website and, with much surprise and delight, successfully reserved our favorite camp site for August 2019. At dinner that night, we all lifted our glasses in celebratory toast! And later, after the others were asleep, in the darkness of night I padded to the kitchen sink for a glass of water. Through the open window I heard the chorus of night sounds, reminding me to listen.

John Engel of Florence can be reached through his website

Babysitter training – for leadership development and gender equality

August 26, 2018

To be published in the Daily Hampshire Gazette, August 29, 2018

I recently attended a babysitter training class. The day-long course, offered by the American Red Cross – on a Saturday – convened in an unassuming building located in an industrial park. Truthfully, my daughter Zoe, soon to be 12, attended the class. I sat in the lobby, at the unoccupied reception desk, working on my laptop to finish a couple of pressing work projects.

When I was 12 there was never mention of babysitting as an income earning activity, for me – or for any of the boys I knew. Rather, I mowed lawns and did other manual labor to make a few bucks and learn something about the world of work.

So, I was curious to see what might be offered in a babysitter training course aimed at 11-16 year-old youth. Throughout the day I chatted with the class instructors, peeked through the window of the classroom door a couple of times and checked in with Zoe during breaks and lunch. I also paged through the Babysitter’s Training handbook Zoe received.

I was especially surprised and delighted by two elements of the training. First, the topics covered in the class not only included basic care for infants and children, age appropriate activities, first aid and safety protocols, but professionalism, growing your own business, and leadership, too. In fact, the first section of the handbook is titled, A Guide to Leadership. The section includes information about how to be a leader and highlights key leadership skills, such as respecting diversity, communication, motivation and decision making. This section ends with an overview of child abuse and neglect, including definitions, examples and steps to follow when abuse is suspected.

Second, I was impressed by the inclusive approach reflected in the curriculum and its delivery. The main instructional video featured two teenagers, an African American girl and a Caucasian boy. The two teens were equally involved in communicating important training messages, for example the boy demonstrated how to spoon feed a baby and the girl demonstrated bottle feeding. Two instructions lead the class, one female, a highly regarded trainer according to office staff, and the other male, an early childhood educator with a master’s degree in child development.

And yet, all 19 participants in the training class were girls. Not a single boy! While I was not surprised, I was disappointed. I asked the instructors if boys ever took the class and they assured me they did. Though when I pressed for more details I learned that for approximately every 100 class participants only 1 or 2 boys attend the class.

I left thinking that the American Red Cross has done a fabulous job creating a class that promotes a form of leadership that values caretaking, nurturing, safety, and diversity – a form of leadership in short supply in many sectors, and at many levels, of American society. That very few boys take the class – or work as babysitters – is such a missed opportunity.

To me, encouraging boys to receive training in childcare and to work as babysitters, when young, could promote a host of positive outcomes, including more men working in caregiving fields, such as early education, nursing, and elder care, to name a few. In turn, more children would observe and experience the inherent caregiving and nurturing capacities of men – qualities that are generally dismissed, devalued or displaced by conventional and outdated ideas that men can only be strong, tough and assertive.

Such a shift might also result in more men feeling comfortable and competent as nurturing and engaged fathers, something I struggled with when I became a father at age 40, having had very little experience with child care and caregiver roles.

And when more fathers equally share care taking roles and responsibilities with women – tasks that are traditionally more heavily shouldered by women – children might come to experience a new normal – boys having equal interest in babysitting.

I am delighted that Zoe is developing her leadership and caregiving capacities, and I’m excited that she is motivated to seek out opportunities to serve families and their children as a child care provider, earning a few dollars in the process.

And, I am equally committed to promoting the idea that Adam, and other boys, take a babysitting class and work as babysitters. It’s not that I am interested in boys displacing girls from babysitting jobs. Rather, I believe the benefits of having all children develop caring and nurturing leadership capacities is what we need more of – in our families, communities and beyond.

John Engel of Florence can be reached through his website