JEOPARDY

 

Name two things that Dads are good for?

 

There was a time when a Dad was the shining light in their son’s eyes. He was someone to emulate, learn from, imitate, and admire. He was their source of knowledge, comfort, and entertainment. As the first and foremost male role model in their lives, a Dad held a special place in their son’s life.

 

At least that is what other fathers have told me! If you were to ask my four sons what my primary role was in their life, you would probably get a diverse set of responses; someone to play catch with, early wrestling partner, tickle-machine and family clown.

 

Those aren’t horrible labels, lord knows I’ve heard worse, but they don’t fall into the pantheon of hallowed parental roles. And I can live with that. It is the transitional role of the father, as our kids move from childhood to adolescence, that I have always struggled with.

 

KEYS AND A WALLET

 

Dads basically become two things when the boys hit mid-teens – a set of car keys and a wallet. Mom’s are still there to bring comfort, joy, compassion and love. Dad’s, wheels and meals! Even conversations are reduced to, well, hand gestures.

 

The outstretched hand is a symbol for “Car keys now!” Then there is the outstretched hand with the forlorn look which signifies “Money for food!” While the outstretched hand in conjunction with the hound dog expression is for the infamous “Car keys and money” combo.

 

Gone are the shared passions of watching another Giants comeback fall short in the ninth inning or a familiar Arrested Development episode that still brings a laugh or two. Left behind is the Sunday morning breakfast tradition of pancakes and foamy orange juice.

 

I’LL BE RIGHT HERE IF YOU NEED ME

 

But in the end, it’s good to keep it all in perspective. I should be grateful I’m still the one holding the keys and the wallet. It won’t be long before they won’t have a need to come to meet at all. Unless, that is, they are looking for someone to play catch with or a tickle-machine!

  1. What’s the appropriate duration of a timeout?
  2. Does six hours sound excessive?
  3. Why are they fussing? They have no job, bills, mortgage, laundry, projects, weeding, cleaning, defrosting, refinancing, painting, mending, refinishing, planning, polishing, emptying, loading, folding, fixing, buying, selling, trading, deciding, shining, formulating, planting, plumbing, hanging, or rearranging to do. Right now, their biggest decision is what game to play and what snack will satisfy them. With the possible exception of the Royal Family (and they must deal with that unpleasant ear problem and the miniseries fallout) no one has it better than they do.
  4. Why is there no NWL (National Wiffleball League)?
  5. Why isn’t kindergarten spelled like garden?
  6. How many woodchucks would a woodchuck chuck?
  7. Why did Richard Scarry decide to write children’s books?
  8. I was so tired this morning I popped a prenatal vitamin. Do my breasts look bigger to you?
  9. Why is the dog the only one who understands me?
  10. How come we spend most of babydom trying to get them to burp and the rest of their lives trying to get them to stop.
  11. How do you get to Sesame Street?
  12. Why isn’t Barney extinct?
  13. Am I the only one who is scared of Teletubbies?
  14. Are you sure there are only 150 Pokemon?
  15. Why does Spider-man always forge right ahead when his spider senses are tingling?
  16. What is the Boy Wonder wondering about?
  17. How come I’m the only one who gets sleepy when reading bedtime stories?
  18. What is the maximum length of a minute, as in, “I’ll be there in a minute”?
  19. If there is three of them (kids) and two of you, (parents) do they win?
  20. If there is two of them and two of you, do they win?
  21. If there is one of them…oh never mind.

 

Let Me Be There In Your Morning…

 

In 1973, I was twelve years-old and had a huge crush on Olivia Newton-John. She had just released a new album, Let Me Be There, and I asked my Mom if we could get it. I basically wanted it for the cover! So off we went to the record store at Geary and Masonic in San Francisco. We marched into the record section of the department store and my Mom located the salesclerk and asked, “Do you have that album by the trio Olivia, Newt and John?”

 

This is why I have always believed it is a parent’s sworn duty to embarrass their children. Nothing major, mind you, no naked shopping at the minimart or singing a cappella at a school function, but the little things that they will remember fifty years on. I am sure my four sons can attest to the fact that I have done more than my share of embarrassing things. They could probably come up with their own list, but here are a few of mine.

 

A Parent’s Sworn Duty

 

For years I coached the boys T-Ball and Double-A teams, never taking the competition as seriously as my fellow coaches. Every year I taught the kids a team cheer. My personal favorite was from Remember the Titans. You know the one, “Everywhere we go, people want to know… We are the Titans, the mighty mighty Titans…” We simply inserted the name of the Little League team in place of Titans. Besides the song, my season-opening talk always included this little pearl of wisdom, “This is your mitt, this is your bat, don’t get them confused.” The mortification this induced in my sons was colossal!

 

Embarrassment was not only relegated to the playing field though. Quite often a well-placed t-shirt or distinctive baseball cap could do the trick. I worked in local television at the time so there was no shortage of attire featuring the names and faces of shows that could instantly cause prepubescent humiliation. “Dude, what’s your Dad wearing?” “Whatever you do, don’t ask him!”

 

Pass the Syrup

 

Then of course there were the meals that included their friends. This was open season for a passing nickname “Pumpkin seed, can you pass the syrup?” or humorous reflection, “Remember the time (insert son’s name) was skating on the hardwood floor and crashed into the refrigerator?”

 

You may well assert that this is retribution for the wrongs of my youth, but I firmly believe it is a parent’s sworn duty to carry on family traditions. After all, Dads are only good for a few things; opening jars, killing bugs and embarrassing their children. Take away the third item and our tenure is very precarious!

AFLAC!

 

As the parent of little kids, patience is probably the most important and inaccessible of traits. I know my own father had a lot of patients. He was a doctor. But when you are in the heat of the moment with your own children, and all is collapsing around you, patience is about as unattainable as humility is for Ben Affleck. Affleck!

 

Quite often it is to your detriment because the outcome might be different, if you only had the patience to let the situation unfold. I am reminded of one particularly taxing day where I finally got our two little guys settled in for story time. The dinner and bath routines were especially chaotic, and I knew the cleanup that awaited me would probably take a few hours.

 

PATIENCE, PLEASE!

 

With both tucked in their beds, I sat down on the floor to read them a story and they bolted out of the room as if the ice cream truck was playing its tune. I wanted to scream to high heaven, “If you don’t get back in here right now, no food for a week!” but something made me hold my tongue. I think it was my wife.

 

A few seconds later they came back into the bedroom, each holding a pillow that they lovingly placed between me and the wall I was leaning against. I was touched beyond words that they would both realize my back had been bothering me and thought of a way to alleviate my discomfort. They climbed back into bed as if this were a normal course of events and waited for the story to begin. It took a few minutes for me to find my voice and begin reading “10 Minutes Till Bedtime”.

 

That simple expression of love has stayed with me for more than twenty years. More than the act itself, the thought that I could have missed it if I had not exerted some small modicum of patience, never escapes me. It makes me wonder what other acts of kindness or generosity I was deprived of because of my lack of patience. Hopefully with the grandkids I will be more patient!

 

OUR HOUSE

 

Raising four sons and reflecting on my youth, offers a stark contrast between our shared experiences. In some ways it is remarkably similar; two parent home, go to school, dinners as a family, juggling the demands of a multi-person household.

 

GENERATIONAL DIVIDES

 

In other ways the generational divide is a chasm greater than Prince Harry’s with the Royal Family. After much contemplation (and iced tea) what follows are my top ten generational divides.

 

  1. When we had friends over, we would put a favorite album on the turntable and then everyone vied for who could pick the next vinyl. Today, they put on an episode of The Office or Arrested Development and laugh like they’ve never seen it before.
  2. In grammar school we learned how to write cursive, compose formal letters, and address an envelope. Today, these well-honed skills are going the way of the VCR, wine coolers, and public tolerance.
  3. If a movie were airing on TV, we knew it would probably be another two to three years before we would have the opportunity to watch it again. Today, well, virtually everything is available for viewing at any time of the day or night. Even stuff you don’t want to see, like Adam Sandler films!
  4. Typing was a class we took in high school. Granted, it was taught by the JV football coach who utilized the two-finger-hunt-and-peck method himself, but it was a required class. Today a three-year-old is master of the TV remote and tablet before they are even potty-trained.
  5. Our superheroes flew off the comic book page or were relegated to Saturday morning cartoons. Today, thanks to special effects wizardry, their prodigious skills are illuminated on the big screen with remarkable frequency.
  6. Quisp, Quake, Apple Jacks, Fruity Pebbles, Boo-Berry, Crunchy Nuggets, Corn Snaps, Honey Snaps, Kaboom… this was breakfast! Today, your ten-year-old wants to become a vegan after viewing a documentary about the beef industry in school.
  7. Dinners were overshadowed by Walter Cronkite reporting, with his usual gravitas, the daily count of fallen military in Viet Nam. Today, dinner is just a brief interlude between League of Legends games.
  8. If you were going to be late getting home and there were no payphones close by, there was going to be hell to pay when you walked in the door. Today, they can just ignore your texts and phone calls and allege there was no service in the area. “But you were downtown?”
  9. Commercials were a part of our everyday life. It was the price we paid for music on the radio and our favorite television programs. Today, bootlegging allows you to listen and watch unencumbered by those annoying interruptions.
  10. When we were getting married, our parents encouraged us to select a fine china pattern and silver to go with it. If you bring this up today, they have difficulty even grasping the concept of why you would need such frivolous utensils. “The sporks that come with the takeout work just fine for us.”

WHAT GOES UP…

 

As I sit here today, my head is spinning. Our abode has been a revolving door of sons rotating in and out of the house. I’m tempted to put a Wendy’s sign out front. Except when you go to Wendy’s you typically pay some money!

 

With that in mind, I started ruminating on the meaning of it all. At times joyous, stressful, sorrowful, laughable, and chaotic. Occasionally all at once. I determined the only answer can be, God has a sense of humor. To that end, here is irrefutable evidence God has a sense of humor.

 

  • Kids move out, kids move back in, move out, move back in, out in. When does it end?
  • Dishes are in the sink, on the counter, on the table, in their room, and on top of the six-foot bookcase. What are they doing up there? How did they get up there?
  • There are three drops of milk in the carton in the refrigerator. Three drops! But there is plenty of Oat Milk. Seriously, Oat Milk?
  • For 18 years your life revolves around your children then they head off to college. Now what are you supposed to do?
  • Unrelated: Why would anybody wanna go on up to Greasy Lake?
  • Your kids pick up some of your wife’s good traits and ALL of your bad ones!
  • You are at a restaurant with your disheveled son. His hair hasn’t seen a comb since the Obama administration, he has seven days of beard growth and his t-shirt has more holes than swiss cheese, but you love him and are enjoying the meal. You introduce your son to a friend at an adjoining table and they remark, “He looks just like you!”
  • Our dog barks like there is a home invasion when a four-year-old neighbor rides her tricycle by our house. But when the Amazon delivery guy opens our front gate, drops the package on the porch, and announces “Amazon” she barely stirs.
  • Videogames!
  • I can be carrying in 17 grocery bags from the car and no one pays any attention, but if I casually mention I’m thinking of ordering pizza for dinner, everyone begins to list their favorite toppings.
Here’s the daily calendar of a man without.

 

Here’s the daily calendar of a man with.

 

Here’s a man without’s prize possession.

 

Here’s a man with’s prize possession.

 

 

ALMOST THERE…

By the fall of this year my wife and I will be empty nesters, see image for a virtual representation. You see, this year our two youngest sons will be heading off to college… or Katmandu, doesn’t matter. The important thing is there will only be two of us in this small three-bedroom two-bath that was clearly intended for a husband and wife and possibly a dog. Yes, definitely a dog!

 

After raising four sons to various heights and weights the next phase of our marriage is just beginning. Time to pull out the old tennis racket, start swinging those clubs again (9-irons, not disco. Do they still have disco clubs?), organize a weekly poker night, and travel… travel… travel.

 

TIME WILL BE ON MY SIDE

But before all that can begin, I need to dust off the to-do list that I began writing all those years ago when I thought this day would never come. Those “someday I’m going to…” chores that won’t really feel like chores anymore because they will not be crammed in between basketball practice and a parent-teacher meeting. Here it is for your reading pleasure, at least I hope it’s a pleasure. The top ten things I will do when the nest is empty:

 

  1. Find the floor in my son’s room. Hey, there are my golf clubs!
  2. Air out my son’s room… fumigate the room… oh, heck, let’s try a controlled burn!
  3. Leave the remote where I know I can find it.
  4. Find all my socks, belts, headphones, chargers, razors…
  5. Cook a meal for two, rather than seven because teens eat so much.
  6. Dry out the boy’s bathroom. Paint the boy’s bathroom. Let’s see contractors, bathroom remodel.
  7. Reclaim the family room TV.
  8. Learn to speak at a normal volume because not everyone wears headphones 24:7.
  9. Stop singlehandedly supporting the cereal industry.
  10. Try not to miss them. I’m not crying, it’s the pollen!

 

When it comes to other people’s children or even with your own spouse, you will find that you are a fount of sage advice and valuable experience. Spouting off words of wisdom that will help them as a parent and throughout their everyday lives, you can see the appreciation in their eyes.

 

A consoling word here, an insightful platitude there. Nothing quite compares to a parent offering parental advice to another. Your heart swells with self-satisfaction. You are The Fount Dad (dramatic music swells).

 

UNTIL

 

But when YOU are caught up in heat of the moment with your own kids, it is all you can do to keep from screaming! I guess it falls under the theory “Those that can’t do, teach (or write a blog!)” because keeping your composure during a heated kids encounter can be very challenging.

 

Usually these types of situations come out of left field (or maybe center, I can never remember). Everything is going along fine. You are playing some type of kid’s board game and then BAM, it happens.

 

One child starts crying because he lost, the other one is hitting him because he is crying. Your words go totally unheeded as a mini-brawl breaks out in the family room.

 

WHERE’S YOUR MOM???

 

I have watched my wife intercede in these situations with her typical aplomb, pacifying everyone involved. She even invites neighborhood kids in to help settle their disputes. She calmly talks to each side and comes up with a workable solution. Eat your heart out Solomon!

 

THE FOUNT DAD HAS LEFT THE BUILDING

 

Me, I have trouble keeping a calm head when tears and limbs are flying. Usually any advice I had ever been given in my life goes out the door, along with any visitors that may have been over, and I start laying down the law.

 

Timeouts are prescribed, toys are taken away, and boarding schools are sought on the internet. This is the most difficult time to keep your cool. It takes real practice (luckily you will have plenty). A calming disposition would help too. I strongly recommend the peaceful approach, but then my boys are asleep right now, so it is easy for me to say.

 

A TWOFER

 

This Fall, my wife and I are preparing for the rare parental double-double. Well, I’m preparing while my spouse is sad about the upcoming prospect. As far as I’m concerned, this is the highly coveted and rarely achieved parental twofer! My guess is this is how the parents of twins feel.

 

You see our last two sons are preparing to head off to college in the fall. One son spent two years studying at a junior college while the youngest is graduating from high school. By September of this year our house will include myself, my wife and our dog. I think that bears repeating; by September of this year our house will include myself, my wife and our dog. This is the culmination of our twenty-six year journey that began in our modest three bedroom home when our first of four sons was born. 

 

PREPARATIONS ARE UNDERWAY!

 

In their younger days

Don’t get me wrong, I’m going to miss them in an inexplicable, confounding way. For all their inherent teen-ness, there will be a void in the house. But at least there will be two less rooms in the house I will need to avoid!

 

As I prepare for their impending departure, I have begun to compile a list of all that I will miss when they are off studying in some far distant county or state. To that end, here are the 10 reasons why I’m going to miss my teens:

 

  1. No one to blame for the gassy smell. Oh wait, I still have the dog. Scratch this one.
  2. Looking for the remote. Why is it in the kitchen cabinet?
  3. Always having the bathroom occupied when I need it.
  4. Cleaning up dishes scattered throughout the house. See #2.
  5. Taking a cold shower after the teens have showered for 20 minutes each. 
  6. Doors slamming and feet stomping at 2am.
  7. Hearing those heartening words, “Dad may I borrow your _______?” Fill in the blank: belt, car keys, socks, sweatshirt, credit card, raincoat, laptop, 401K…
  8. The overall teen odor. Seriously, what is that smell?
  9. That heartwarming response to the simple query, how was your day? “Fine.”
  10. The non-response to the text “Where are you?”
  11. I know I said ten, but this is not for me. Costco and Safeway will miss the teens not being at home anymore. Profits will plummet!