How to Be a Dad

How to Be a Dad

Is a House a Home?

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When the housing bubble burst, it was probably the first time I felt okay about being somewhat destitute as a child. Finally, being “descended from Irish working class immigrants” and the whole “salt of the earth” thing would work to my advantage. Growing up, the mindset just made me feel bad during my fancier life experiences.

See how poor we were? We had to build our own Voltrons using butter knives. The humanity!

I guess I am genetically wired to disdain richness lorded over people by acquaintances with oversized houses who want to prove to you how WELL THEY’RE DOING. Like everyone else.

I’d lived in Los Angeles for years, somewhat hand-to-mouth, but it was easier to make ends meet because of my wife’s second income. We saw lots of friends with families hit hard by the real estate crash. We empathized with them. I couldn’t have imagined, at the time, how hard that must’ve been.

Like most, I wanted very much to own a home and raise a family; this is where the puzzle pieces of the American- and Irish Dreams line up. I dreamed of taking my first step and securing some land of my own, but I was never in a position to make it happen, a symptom of my artistic aspirations taking me down a different road. At least I bypassed that ‘young and single’ dementia that happens in your early twenties, right?

“Hey Finn, that’s where you were conceived, son!

Flash forward to September, 2009, about 14 days before my wife was due with our son. We lived in a small two bedroom apartment, probably the size of a garage in most McMansions. It was cozy. We’d lived in the complex for almost 10 years and every three years, we would move to a slightly larger unit in the same building. But as the clock counted down to “our” due date, my wife told me, “Let’s do it. Let’s move.”


We decided to find a place with an extra room so family could visit, a larger tub for my wife to labor in and a better kitchen. You know, first world problems.

Our move, though only 12 blocks away, was a bit intense. And who was charged with this alleged moving? Me. Pregnant Avara was only good for a couple hours of laborious activity. My nerves were charged up enough to work furiously for long periods of time, but in hindsight, losing all that sleep and energy right before my son arrived was probably not a great idea. It was, however, great preparation for the hours I put into this blog!

Once we were all moved in, it was apparent just how sprawling the 3-bedroom and 2 1/2 bathroom apartment was. It was actually too big in certain ways, which I chalked up to my shyness about nice things. It required more furniture, accessories. It felt sort of… empty-ish. We’d bought into this ideology that having a bigger place would solve our problems. But it didn’t just cost us money. Soon, we realized there were all sorts of things we needed in order to function in the new space. We inherited costs and stress from our hurried decision.

In the end, Finn slept in our room, not down the hall and to the right as we planned. We didn’t have the financial resources, especially with a new baby, to make our luxurious new habitat into a home. Avara didn’t even get a chance to labor in the massive spa-sized tub (though I made use of that thing like it was my job). It just didn’t suit us and, more importantly, we weren’t suited for it.

It felt like our own bubble burst.

We ended up moving, AGAIN, to a smaller place, and we live here now. It’s not ideal, but we don’t have a choice, really. With careful planning and decision-making, I’m hoping to arrive back at that level of ownership, on my own steam. Gifts and impatiently-achieved aspirations come at a cost. Sometimes, we endeavor to bite off more than we can chew rather than build-up ourselves and possessions by graded approach over time.

I just want to find a place, grow roots and have it become the place my son knows as home, even as he grows into adulthood. Maybe we do it brick-by-brick. I’m worried that won’t happen. But with a child, I’m not willing to skydive, anymore, and have someone throw me a pack.

Know what I mean?

Just kidding about the Hollywood part…

Tranquoo Child Anti-Wakefulness System
Having trouble with the kid but don’t want to tranq them? How about yourself?


21 Responses to “Is a House a Home?”

  1. We’re in a similar spot, though for us the challenge has been that we keep moving– we’ve moved 3 times just since my oldest was born 4.5 years ago (and BIG moves, international & cross-country). This last move was for business school, and hopefully once my husband finishes that we’ll have a bit more stability and can work on growing real roots someplace, and actually STICKING AROUND in one place for a while. Here’s hoping….

  2. Christina says:

    I really like small homes – and no HOAs – there’s more opputunity to really make your impression on your home. You see your kids growing up in worn floor boards and patchy grass that used to house holes from your sons’ laborious hours of digging…with a kitchen spoon.

    My husband doesn’t share the same vision on this. So we went with HOA suburban.

    These fancy suburban houses feel so sterile. We’ve been here for 3 years and I still feel like its a house with stuff in it – a LOT of stuff. Mostly toys. Though it is home – we definitely feel more comfy here than at in-laws and parents’ homes – it still feels a bit…empty.

    And I think your assessment is spot on with what I feel is missing here.

  3. Erin B says:

    Our house/home dilemma is closely tied to being a blended family. When it is my hubby and I and one kid, the house (1000sqft) feels HUGE. When we add in two teenagers and some of their friends on alternate weeks it is tiny. The idea of home has really changed for me since I found a family and grew up.

  4. Setting down roots in the community is more important than the house IMO. We recently moved and it’s night and day the difference in the quality of life in a community that’s very family centric, with lots of neighbors with kids. Very different vibe than the home we had for 10 years. The house was an upgrade, but like you described, it was a graded approach and we didn’t need too many new furnishings. Growing up in a lower-middle class semi-rural home without too much “stuff”, it almost feels surreal to have what we have now, and it really is more about location and community than the house itself which I never thought would be the case.

  5. I too, am the result of an Irish American, salt of the earth type upbringing and totally relate to this story. We live in a tiny house in a town of wealthy large houses and I find myself daydreaming a lot about what I would do with a large house. I forget that I once daydreamed about this house but never found that moment of contentment and almost immediately wanted something bigger. Never happy with what I had. I’m going to take today to really appreciate our small house filled with junk and love!

  6. JeninCanada says:

    We just want a place of our own. That’s all. I’m tired of renting and living by someone elses rules and time-tables. This is going to take forever, and in the meantime we’re stuck in a tiny two bedroom apartment where you can’t do laundry after 9pm and there’s nowhere for our son to play.

  7. We never intended to stay in the house we are in now. Our grand master plan was to use hubby’s equity to design and build a new home, live in my condo while it was under construction, then sell the latter. Then the real estate market crashed. And, after our daughter was born we decided I would stay home with her, giving up a sizable income. So here we are.

    And you know what? As much as we may not want to be here, our daughter loves our home. Whenever we talk about moving, she freaks out. This is where she feels safe, comfortable, loved, happy. She doesn’t want for more, like we do. She doesn’t care than things aren’t new and shiny. That we don’t have much space. In her short life, she has built wonderful memories here. So we try hard to look at this home from her perspective.

  8. Beatriz Brown says:

    We have lived in our apartment for 4 years. We have had the privilege of welcoming 2 of our 3 sons here. This is home. We look forward to moving when my husband is done with medical school for one reason only: the neighborhood. I have had those moments when I was frustrated with renting and being ina small place and told my husband, more than once, “let’s just buy a bigger place!” Lucky for me, he knew better and never gave in. I love our little, 2 bedroom apartment that doesn’t have a washer and dryer. I love our little home that feels oh so good to come to!

  9. Jess says:

    We were sort of nutty when it came to getting into a place of our own to start our family. Dylan was an unplanned addition to our party of two and we didn’t get into our own place until 2 weeks before the big day. And we stuck with the “childless couple” adventure of MOVE EVERY YEAR THE LEASE IS UP…that was until we settled into a great house with a yard and all those rooms and a great kitchen and stayed put for two whole years which was like a lifetime…and apparently so to our then 2 year old. We’ve been in our current place (still nowhere we’d like to make our roots, but will do for now…meaning until March…ugh) for 7 months and our little guy still gets very upset that we’re not “going home” to the place we lived before the current abode. It’s rough, you don’t really think of how much the little ones will pick up on the “House or Home” thing, but they do. They. Do.

    Keep on paving the way, brick by brick, just try not to chuck the trowel at anyone along the way.

  10. Nattie says:

    I never believe a house is a home, you make your home a home. We lived in a dinky 2 bedroom apartment, moved to a 3 bedroom apartment 10 months later, and are now moving into a house in 5 months and I couldn’t be more excited. I need more space!

    Natalya, Ruff House Art

  11. JF says:

    Cannot applaud your responsibility enough. “careful planning and decision-making” in this kind of area is a great lesson for Finn if not today but someday.

  12. Yolanda says:

    I think the rules of a “house” being in a home in Los Angeles are vastly different than anywhere else in the country. I grew up here, lived in several apartments and most of my friends lived in apartments also (unless their parents were crazy rich since our houses start at around 400k for the little shacks in the ghetto). When I moved to Philadelphia, I realized that people actually lived in homes owned by their families…but aside from that, I didn’t see a difference. A Family, A Home.. they are created, the dwelling type is just scenery.

  13. Karen says:

    I hear you! I am sick of hearing “Well your husband is doing so much better now at work, why don’t you move up in life?” Um, damn good schools where we are, good circle of friends, and as prices started to explode and inflate, we are not struggling like some are. My grandmother came here from Norther Europe and worked hard. She was so happy to finally own a mobile home on a lovely little patch of land that she kept up beautifully. Before that, lots of lousy places and miserable jobs but she finally got a place of her own. We are teaching my children finacial savviness and how you do not need a big house or luxury car to show who you are. Your actions eventually speak louder than your posessions.

  14. My partner and I married 3.5 years ago and have lived in a two-storey, two-bedroom unit ever since. Which has been awesome (love that extra room for my partner to be messy and/or man-cave-y in). Now the study is the baby room – she is almost 10 months old and starting to move. . . fast. We have been saving hard, and we have our eye on a house….by which I mean a townhouse, because a freestanding house is just not an option. The townhouse has three bedrooms (one for our current and future kid to share, one to be a study again), and the two vital assets of an enclosed yard and a second toilet. It also has a garage we can convert into a fourth room so that when the kids are ten or so they can have their own rooms from then on. We have a LOT of books and very heavy bookshelves handmade by my dad-in-law (and I will be asking him to make more).
    Moving house more than once before I retire fills me with horror. I’m hanging out to live in a place that’s really ours (or technically our bank’s, but whatever…)

    Louise Curtis

  15. Kez says:

    I hear you. My husband is always looking for the next best thing. Me? I just want to make our house (the one we’re in now) a home. He thinks he needs a giant shed and more rooms for us to be completely comfortable as a family, but right now it’s just me, him and our 11.5month old Little Mister. We live in a great place and while I don’t see us being here forever, I want us to be in a great place financially, spiritually and all the other ‘lly’s before we make another house a home. It’s not worth us creating more stress about money or material goods. We have more important things to do/be in life. Home is where your heart is and more than anything it should feel safe and be a happy place, whether it’s a tiny one room shack or a mansion.

  16. Jen says:

    I love this post. That is all.

  17. I’ve lived in my current house longer (8 years) than any other house. Ever. Home is definitely where the heart is…

  18. Julia says:

    I lived in the US for 2 years, with my husband who was studying at the University of Minnesota. Most of our friends were, just like us, international students in their 20’s or 30’s living in rented 1 or 2 bedrooms in student neighborhoods or in student housing cooperatives. It was all impersonal and very fake-ish, but it was alright. But then I made friends with some locals and visited their homes, and they were as impersonal and fake as the student rented places!!! It was so weird!!! I must have visited 4 or 5 owned houses, in Minneapolis, Philadelphia and the DC area, and I left the US with the impression that all homes are indistinctingly made of parts that can be bought at Ikea and Home Depot. That their owners were interchangeable. No real substance whatsoever. I know this is absolutely wrong, but I left with the impression that it was a wonder they contained actual plumbing and electrical wiring.

  19. Terry says:

    For me, life isn’t about possessions (albeit I still have too many). I know so many people who want to buy a bigger place for all of their stuff, yet none of it gets used. This whole idea of buying things to have them is insane. I recently got yelled by my spouse at for giving away DVD’s that I hadn’t watched in 5 years to which I simply replied “if you hadn’t seen me, you wouldn’t even have noticed”. It still felt weird doing it.

    An organization blog taught me recently: “instead of buying a place or more storage for your stuff, just have less stuff if you rarely use it”. I like that idea!

    Instead of buying a new book shelf I bought an e.Reader for example. Instead of buying an Entertainment Center for new movies and games I got rid of DVD’s I don’t watch. Instead of buying a bigger place, I took the cost of the move/sale/etc and put it into family vacations this year.

    Experiences are worth more than things, unless those things lead to experiences. It’s not the person with the most toys at their deathbed that wins, it’s the one that got the most use out of what they had.

    If you have lots of space, use it to create experiences

    For example ways to turn things into experiences:

    – buy a projector and screen and make your own movie theater for family movie nights

    – buy some gym equipment and setup a nice home gym and actually use it to stay healthy

    – be the host for family events

    – instead of buying something, go somewhere

    – pay someone to clean your place instead of buying something bigger that you have to clean so you have more time to do the things you want to

    – buy less toys and create more fun experiences with your kids with the $

  20. Laurie says:

    I love this..The end

  21. Errol says:

    I can totally relate! After moving 10 times (I think, I’ve lost count?) in 5 years I’ve found you do try to make the most of what you have, even when it’s blaringly obvious that where you’re living at the moment is far from ideal. You just have to do the best to make a house, your home. Thanks for your insight into your experiences!

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