21st Century Dad
One Dad's Thoughts, Ideas, and Feelings.
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27 Days on One Tank of Gas

May 13th, 2008 . by 21st Century Dad
Sport Utility Vehicle
Photo: SocialTechnologies.com

Crunchy on the Inside With a Soft Suburban Outer Coating” started its life as a lengthy and thoughtfully written article. I decided to split it up into smaller chunks over several weeks. The first installment came out on Earth Day. The mid-section of this article series has expanded due to the timing of events.

Maybe you employ every gas-saving tip out there, but there is more money to squeeze from other areas in our lives without suffering for it. Some tactics even improve the quality of life.

Finally Filling Up Again

The insidious “E” light came on today as I was driving home from work. I know this doesn’t mean “Get gas now or be stranded on the roadside!” but it always imparts a sense of urgency. Besides, I spotted a screaming bargain at $3.73/gallon (15 years ago in Europe or Japan, dozens of cars would be lined up at that gas station).

I made it 27 days between fill-ups. I paid $6 more at the pump this time.

The Real Cost of Gas

Gas prices are an easy target. The per-unit cost has gone up significantly, but what impact does it really have on our budgets? Let’s examine a hypothetical (and realistic) scenario here:

The Almost-Good Old Days

  • $3.00/gallon
  • 25 mile round-trip commute.
  • 25 MPG

Today

  • $3.73/gallon
  • 25 mile round-trip commute.
  • 25 MPG

To keep this simple, we’re isolating the cost of commuting to work. I’m Asian and I got bad grades in math all through school. Let’s keep this simple, OK? Based on the assumptions outlined above, we have a fuel cost of $15/week in the past. At the higher price, we have a weekly fuel cost of $18.65. We’re talking about $3.65. Can you find $3.65 worth of fat in your weekly expenditures? Yes, the percentage of increase is gruesome, but what is our total expenditure increase over the medium and long term? Oh, and BTW, you can trust these figures. I’m not that bad at math.

Think Outside the Pump

I’m not making light of the budget stretching that’s going on. I also recognize that many people have longer commutes or less fuel-efficient vehicles than the scenario outlined above.

I get my share of “woe-is-me.” There’s a teenager living here. If a solution to your problem is within reach, the last thing I want to hear is whining. Enlist your creativity (or mine) and find the money you’re throwing away.

  • Chances are, in a 2-car household, one car gets used more. Drive the one that gets better mileage more.
  • One can of soda per day represents $10/month. Drink water instead.
  • Attention smokers. Cut out 3 cigarettes a day and there’s your $15/month.
  • Do I really have to talk about the oft-vilified Starbucks Latte again? Dunkin’ Donuts coffee costs less and tastes better.
  • Visit my buddies Frugal Dad and Mike.
  • Ride your bike instead of driving.
  • Take the bus.
  • Buy stuff on Amazon instead of driving to the mall.
  • Stay home and read my blog.

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What Are You? I’m a Twinkie!

February 4th, 2008 . by 21st Century Dad

Korean-AmericanI just started exploring the archives at Kimchi Mamas. It’s sort of like the female equivalent of Rice Daddies, but with a Korean focus. Those of you who have been following me know that I’ve started to explore my own cultural heritage more. It’s important to me that my daughter has the opportunity to learn about where she came from.

Growing up in an area heralded for its diversity, there was (and still is) a conspicuous underrepresentation of Asians. I can’t complain much. I love Cuban and Argentine cuisine. I have a legitimate shot at becoming fluent in Spanish. I might even teach my daughter.

Being different meant being ridiculed. This was how I became whitewashed. I couldn’t articulate it. It was such a horrible thing to feel. I was ashamed of being Korean. How can you say that publicly? I was ashamed of who I was and ashamed to admit that I was ashamed. This low self-esteem cocktail didn’t fully metabolize until my late 20’s.

I fiercely defended being a Twinkie. I started to accept that I was what I was. If 3rd, 4th, and 5th generation Italian-Americans can have Italian pride without speaking a word of the language, why was it such a crime for me not to have in-depth knowledge of Korean culture? I felt I was no different from the distant descendants of European immigrants. I just accelerated the Americanization process.

Are Asian people expected to preserve their cultural identity more than other ethnic groups? I was certainly asked to feel that way when people called me out for not being Korean enough. I didn’t fit into a neat little category. I worked hard to make sure I didn’t fit any Asian stereotypes. I let academics slide in high school. I declined to participate in anything that identified me as Korean. I even elected to shelve a hobby (photography) that I enjoyed immensely for many years.

Whenever people ask me, “Where are you from?”

My answer is, “Baltimore.” This usually results in a quizzical look. 🙂

Someone once asked me, “What part of China are you from?”

“It’s a tiny little province in the northeast. You may have heard of it. It’s called BALTIMORE!”

I’ve encountered my share of racial ignorance too. “Are you Chinese?”

“No.”

“Japanese?”

“No. Korean.”

“What’s the difference?”

ARGHHH!!!!!

I didn’t fit into some neat little box. Fortunately, I’m OK with that. I’ve never been easy to explain. I used to curse it, but maybe this button-pushing is exactly what people need. If you push buttons and shatter stereotypes, shout out with a comment.

When People Tell You Your Biracial Child is Beautiful

January 28th, 2008 . by 21st Century Dad

Korean-AmericanBiracial children can suffer from identity crises. What are they? One unifying theme is that they are often singled out as having exceptional physical beauty.

  • When we broke the news to our friend Shantelle, she exclaimed, “ohmygod! That’s going to be one beautiful baby!”
  • In the January/February 2006 issue of Psychology Today, an article titled Mixed Race, Pretty Face?, the author states that people of mixed Asian and European origins have become synonymous with exotic glamour.

In my own explorations, I’ve found that many parents of mixed-race children grow weary of the comments on how exotic the child looks. This seems to be true regardless of the particular ethnicities blended.

Before you think this is another rant, think again. People say boneheaded things all the time. Comments like, “ooh, she’s so exotic looking,” may stem from ignorance and laziness. It may even be a socially conditioned response. When my wife and I are out in public, people do comment on how beautiful our daughter is. I don’t feel like we’re being gawked at. Most strangers who make comments merely think my daughter just happens to be an exceptionally cute baby.

The beauty we see in these multi-racial children transcends the physical attributes. A mixed-race child is tolerance and diversity personified. That is what I see as the source of their fabled beauty.

When Mom Has to Raise Dad

January 22nd, 2008 . by 21st Century Dad

Would this blog be complete without any discussion about my own father. We didn’t have the best relationship growing up. I point to the language barrier as the reason we never got really close. As someone who values the power of effective communication, that stands out. Even if I could speak Korean fluently, it may not have been any different.

During and shortly after my parents got divorced, my mother told me just that she raised a 4th child (I have 2 sisters). I thought my father was the only father like that. I saw my friends’ dads as much more involved in their lives. As my own knowledge base increased, I learned that my father’s disposition isn’t so unique at all.

Most of you reading this are part of a new generation of fathers. I say most because I’ve found out that women read my blog. Mothers and fathers are equal partners in the parenting experience. Is this a backlash against generations of aloof and detached fathers? Are we fighting back against the negative portrayals of the father figure in the media today? Whatever it is, I’m just enjoying my role as the father of a new baby girl.

When we broke the news to Austin about the pregnancy, he seemed nonplussed. He furtively shared some glee with a close friend, but there wasn’t much mention beyond that. He doesn’t talk about the baby much at all.

Immediately after Ariana was born, Austin adamantly declared that he would not do diapers. He keeps his distance from the baby and has made no direct effort in the care and feeding of the baby. His contribution to household chores is minimal to nothi on par with most teenage boys.

I found myself growing frustrated and bitter. Two members of this household are shouldering additional responsibilities and one member’s neglect has reached new lows. I started to feel empathy for the women married to loafing husbands, past and present.

My brain connected the dots. A congruence was emerging before me. Austin’s detachment and aloofness paralleled the stereotype of the father from generations past.

I started connecting more dots. I thought about my interactions with other adult males. Many have characteristics that aren’t remarkably different from adolescent males.

  • Poor listening skills and poor communication skills in general
  • Doesn’t read instruction manuals
  • Can’t stand to be told how to do something
  • Likes playing with consumer electronics
  • Constant need to one-up other males
  • Smells like the inside of a hockey skate

The years of critical thinking skills drilled into me via prep school will never go away. Yet another hypothesis emerged. Many men halt their personal and emotional development during adolescence.

These men enter adult life, get married, and may or may not have children. The wife grows weary of having to be a parent to the man-child instead of a partner. Divorce rates soar.

It’s beyond common sense. I have become driven to become the best father I can be. I loved this child from the moment the little blue plus sign appeared on the home pregnancy test. The first ultrasound image, the trickle and ultimate deluge of gifts, my wife’s ever expanding belly, and finally the fateful day brought it all together. My heart broke for all the fathers who would never know the joy of being totally immersed in their child’s life.

Generations of distant and aloof fathers don’t have to guide your actions here. You really can do it all except breastfeed.

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One Big Hapa Family

January 7th, 2008 . by 21st Century Dad

The Gosselin FamilyI don’t watch much TV at all, but one show got my attention. Jon & Kate Plus 8 is a reality show about a family with one set of twins and one set of sextuplets! That’s remarkable all by itself. It’s especially of interest to me since Jon is half Korean and the children are one quarter Korean.

The show chronicles the daily life of the Gosselins – Jon, Kate, Cara, Madelyn, Alexis, Aaden, Collin, Leah, Hannah, and Joel. The mundane activities of family life turn into a television-worthy circus. I’ve watched a few episodes and did some Googling. Here are some of my quick thoughts:

  • The husband is [half] Asian and the wife is Caucasian. You typically see Caucasian male / Asian female pairings.
  • It’s great to see that the chaos of raising 8 children overshadows their biracial status.
  • I always smile privately whenever I see an Asian person portrayed in the media who speaks with a perfectly good American accent.
  • Kate is older than Jon, so that’s another stereotype buster. Yay!
  • Kate is a control freak and engages in plenty of henpecking. This doesn’t help the perception of Asian men in America.
  • I wonder what their car would look like if they had “Family Aboard” stickers on it.

I’m not a big fan of television, but there is one worthwhile takeaway from all this. One of the many official sites dedicated to the Gosselins features tips for running a smooth household. This is sound advice whether you have one child or 8!

Now that my curiosity has been satisfied, I can turn the TV off until the Stanley Cup Finals.

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