Monday, February 28, 2011

L.A. Drivers Drive Me Crazy

People in Southern California can’t drive. Except for me.

“That’s so arrogant,” my wife said when I told her that during a recent outing in the car.

“Yeah, Daddy,” my 7-year-old son added, “you’re being cocky.”

“There are three things L.A. drivers think,” I told my family. “They think they own the road. They think they can multitask while driving. And they think it’s okay to daydream. I just focus on protecting my precious cargo -- my family.”

“Awww,” my wife said sincerely. “That’s sweet.”

“So I watch how bad other drivers are driving,” I continued, “and I predict what stupid moves they’ll make. That way I avoid accidents they’re sure to cause.”

“See,” my wife said, “you ruin what you said about your precious cargo with arrogance.”

“Yeah,” my son said, “you’re still being cocky.”

“You’re not such a perfect driver,” my wife said to me.

“Yeah, Daddy,” my son added. “You’re not so perfect.”

“You’re right,” I said, “I made the mistake of getting on the road with these terrible drivers.”

“I bet you can’t finish this drive without complaining about other drivers,” my wife proposed.

“What would be the point of that?” I asked.

“The point,” she said, “is that every time we get in the car, you complain about how everyone is driving. It gets old.”

“Yeah, Daddy,” my son said. “You’re just cocky every time we get in the car.”

“If I took on this challenge,” I said, “your watching would make me make a mistake.”

“Then you’re not perfect,” my wife said.

“Yeah, Daddy,” my son said. “Then you’re not perfect.”

So I agreed to take the challenge.

Right away, I got in a line of traffic to merge onto another freeway. And I waited. Other drivers passed everyone in the back of the line and cut into the front. And my wife called me arrogant. Why were these motorists more important than everyone else in line? Of course, I couldn’t complain or I’d lose my wife’s little challenge. I made a face. My wife knew what I was thinking.

“Careful,” she warned me.

“Yeah, Daddy,” my son said. “Careful.”

As I inched closer to the merge, line cutters got closer to cutting me off directly. And then it happened: A lady in her Lexus must’ve thought she was more important than I was in my Ford and, without a signal, cut right in front of me. Then a man in a BMW with an “In Loving Memory” painting on his back window thought he was more important than Lexus Lady and nearly pushed her into a ravine, wedging his way in front of her. Lexus Lady slammed on her horn, waved her hands in the air, apparently screaming as if "In Loving Memory" Man tried to take her young. Didn’t she just cut me off the way he cut her off?
Again, I couldn’t complain. And I didn’t.

And I didn’t make any mistakes while driving. I’d soon prove my wife and son wrong.

Then I nearly rear-ended someone. I hit the brakes, slid into the next lane, almost sideswiped a truck. My wife and kid tried to plant their feet into the asphalt through the floorboard of the car.

“What are you doing?” my wife yelled. “You almost hit that car. Didn’t you see him brake? You almost got us killed . . .”

“I’m glad you’re upset,” I said, interrupting her tirade. “I’m glad you recognize bad driving and I’m glad you’re speaking out about it. Now you see why I do it.”

“So you almost got into an accident just to prove a point?” my wife asked me. “You almost got us killed just so you can be right?”

“Skid again, Daddy,” my son said with a huge smile. “You might be cocky, Daddy, but you are the best driver in the world.”

I could’ve let my family believe that I purposefully almost got into an accident to prove a point. I could’ve let them believe that I never take my mind off the road, that I was, in fact, a perfect driver -- the best in the world, as my son said. I could’ve easily done all that to fool my wife and kid.

And I did.

-October 2010

Wii Are Having a Party

My 7-year-old son showed me how to open a bottle of Flinstones kids’ vitamins, then he said, “Look, Daddy, I can get past the child lock.”


The boy assured me he’d never touch the vitamins again.

Okay, so that’s a good reason to have a nervous breakdown. But for me, even the smallest things get me worked up.

“There are supposed to be three ‘click’ pens in the jar near the kitchen phone,” I said to my wife, “not four. Where’d this extra one come from?”

More concerned about my behavior than the unexpected appearance of the fourth Bic Clic Stic, my wife sat me down, told me to stop stressing about the minute details of the house and asked if I needed a break.

“I just wanna know where that extra pen came from,” I said.

“Maybe you’re working too hard,” she said. “Maybe you should take some time for yourself, do something fun.”

I made the mistake of saying, “That’s a good idea.”

“We should have a party,” she suggested. “That’d be fun.”

Hosting a party would not be fun. It’d be work. It’d be a mess.

“I think we—”

“Wii! Good idea,” my wife said. “Let’s have a Nintendo Wii party, play video games all night.”

My head ached just thinking about it. Without even looking around, I knew what I was in for: shoes all over the house to pick up, loose mail on the counter to go through, no vacuum lines in the carpet. My son’s dump truck lunchbox is always parked all over the house, so I’d have to find that before a guest did. And I still had to find where that extra pen came from. What a nightmare.

“So, do you wanna have a Wii party?” my wife asked.

“Sure,” I said. “Great idea.” I couldn’t let her down.

Whenever we have people over, my wife likes to make something sweet to eat, something she’s never made before. This time it would be a double chocolate layer, triple fudge cake. My wife was excited to bake it. My son was drooling to eat it. I feared for my life like the victim in a horror movie -- my son and any kind of chocolate cake doesn’t mix. There’s mess on his hands, mess on his face, mess on his clothes and on the furniture . . . mess on me!

“What’s wrong?” my wife asked when she saw me stressing out.

This party was a terrible idea, that’s what was wrong.

“Nothing’s wrong,” I replied.

On the day of the party, I got up early and got working. That’s when I met a new version of my son -- Little Mr. Clean. He was cleaning dust off of the baseboards with a Q-tip, hunting for rogue fuzzes in the carpet with tweezers and demanding a few squirts of Febreze air freshener in every room of the house. He was just like his dad -- this kid was freakin’ nuts.

Once the house was clean, I got to work on the second most important part of the party: the snack table. This was fun. I taught my son a very important lesson: No party is complete without pub mix.

As the day progressed, I felt like the party planning hadn’t. We still had food to prepare, Wii game score cards to make . . . This party couldn’t get worse. Then the phone calls poured in. So-And-So was bringing So-And-So to the party, What’s-His-Name was bringing What’s-Her-Name, and Bill was bringing some friends from work.

Who the heck was Bill?

I gave up. I didn’t care if we didn’t have enough room for all these people. I didn’t care if we didn’t have enough food. And I didn’t care if we didn’t have enough time to finish our party preparations. This party was supposed to keep me from stressing. It was supposed to be fun. My head was throbbing.

So I quit. I sat on the couch and waited for our guests to arrive.

It was when the party was well under way that I realized my wife was right -- I shouldn’t have been stressing out about the minute details of the house. I’d worried for nothing. No, I should’ve been stressing out about my poor Wii game skills -- I got killed in every game.

After the party, I asked my son to use his newfound skills opening child-locked bottles and get me three Advil.

“Wait! Stop!” I said, physically stopping him in his tracks.

And that’s the story of how I almost really lost my mind . . . and my kid to Child Protective Services.

-September 2010

Playing God

We people pick up our habits like we pick up souvenirs from the places we visit. I have a favorite beer even though I don’t drink beer. I picked up the taste from a friend who told me why it was the best. I was in no position to argue.

My favorite cars, my favorite food, my favorite sayings and the things I’m passionate about are all things I randomly collected from birth to now. So I suppose you could say we people are self-built.

My wife and I took our 7-year-old son to the park to play with friends the other day. We brought along our pet dog.

“Beagles are great family dogs,” said my son’s friend, who knew everything there was to know about canines, including the type of pet we owned. “My dog bible says that beagles are very playful, but not suited for apartment living.” Good thing we don’t live in an apartment.

This girl went on to explain the entire history of the beagle breed.

Another friend pointed to a plane passing by overhead.

“It’s a Southwest plane,” he shouted with great excitement. “A Boeing 737. The seats are really comfortable, but KLM Airlines is much roomier -- they have Boeing 747s.”

The kid told us the differences between various other airlines and plane types, including the fact that “the cabin in the Airbus A330 is the highest in its aircraft class.”
My wife and I were amazed by the knowledge these 7-year-olds possessed. I turned to my son -- he was scooping sand from the sandbox to the pavement for no particular reason.

“We have to find a super skill for our kid,” I told my wife. “What do you think it should be?”

“Don’t you think our son should decide?” she said.

“We’ve given him 7 years,” I replied.

“I thought you always said people are self-built.”

“We are,” I answered. “I’m just gonna start controlling what’s around him; influence him.”

“Oh, so you’re going to play God?”

“No,” I said. “I’m not creating our son. I’m just gonna give him some touches.”

After a long talk about how manipulating our boy was wrong, I told my wife I wouldn’t go through with my plans. Then I retired to our home office to think up a super skill I could teach the kid under the radar. Hmmm.

“Daddy,” my son called from outside the office. “Are you watching film noir again?”

That was it. I’d already started teaching the kid about cinema. Now I’d teach him everything about film like his friends know everything about dogs and planes. I’d show those fools who really had the super skill. Ah, ha ha ha!

While Mommy was gone, my son and I watched film after film, side by side with the accompanying scripts. We discussed story act breaks and character arcs, and we analyzed thematic meanings. Upon repeat viewings, we broke down lighting schemes and covered camera lens properties.

“But, Daddy, what is a ‘film movement’?” he asked when we got into the history of narrative film.

“You know, like French New Wave, German Expressionism, Italian Neo-Realism . . .”

“Oh,” he said. “So would the Hollywood ‘Golden Age of Cinema’ Studio System be considered a film movement? And is that separate from 70s Personal Cinema, like what spawned from the filmmakers who came up under Roger Coreman and American International Pictures?”

My son was on his way being “super.” But we still had a long way to go.

“What’s going on here?” Mommy asked when she caught us having a theoretical discussion about the introduction of sound to film.

“Mommy, did you know Charlie Chaplin was initially against ‘talkies’?” the boy said. “But me and Daddy understand why because the visual language of cinema went on a decline once sound came into the picture.”

Mommy would not be happy with me “playing God,” manipulating our boy like I did. It was curtains for me.

“Wow, how does he know all of that?” Mommy asked. And she stuck him on the phone with family and friends to show him off.

What had I done? I turned an innocent kid into a monster -- a freak. And my wife fed into it. Our boy was doomed. Those with super powers are always isolated, never understood, miserable.

“It’s okay, Daddy,” my boy said when he overheard me sulking to Mommy about how I messed up. “I don’t really love cinema anyway. I only got into it because I love you.”

I gave him a hug and the two of us went outside to play catch for the first time together. And that’s when I picked up a new habit -- baseball with my son.

-August 2010

How to Be Honest

A friend told me how one of his co-workers was the most dishonest, angry, aggravating, unfair individual he’d ever met. When the two were together, however, you’d think they were best buds.

As a father, I feel I have a responsibility to teach my 6-year-old son about honesty. I don’t want him to become dishonest and two-faced like my friend there.

“If you don’t like someone,” I told the boy, “well, that’s okay. But that doesn’t mean you have to lie to his face and say he’s a great guy, then turn your back and call him a jerk.”

My son knew just what I was talking about -- he’s smarter than the average 6-year-old.

“You look old,” my son told Grandma after seeing her for the first time in several months.

“Why’d you say that to Grandma?” I asked him later.

“Because she looks old.”

“Well don’t tell her that,” I said.

“But I wanted to be honest.”

“It’s good to be honest,” I told the kid, “but it’s not good to be rude.”

“But if I told her she looks young,” he argued, “then I’d be dishonest. You told me to be honest.”

“If you said nothing,” I replied, “you could still be honest because you didn’t say anything at all. You have to think about people’s feelings, son. Would you want someone telling you that you looked old?”

“Yeah,” he said with excitement. “I wanna be bigger.”

I was getting nowhere. I switched tactics -- I stopped reasoning with the child and told him to do what I say: Tell the truth. Be nice. Or don’t say anything at all.

The next day, the boy got into trouble at day care. He told me that another kid started it.

“Remember what I said about honesty?” I asked him.

“Yeah,” he said.

“Then tell me what happened.”

“The other kid started it.”

“You may think you can lie to me,” I said, “but you can’t lie to God. God knows everything. God knows what you’re thinking. God knows if you’re lying. God knows everything. EV-E-RY-THING. So I’m going to ask you again -- what happened?”

My son couldn’t speak. He was in tears, begging for God’s forgiveness. He feared God’s disapproval. And so, in between sobs, he took a deep breath, and let the honesty pour out.

“The other kid started it,” he said. Then he asked, “Does God know times tables, too?”

I felt my innocent son slipping away from me at the hands of Dishonesty. I couldn’t allow this. I have a responsibility as a dad to raise a good citizen of the community.

I switched tactics -- I stopped reasoning with my boy and punished him for getting into trouble at day care and, more importantly, for lying to me.

“But, Daddy, how do you know if I was lying or not?” the kid asked while in a timeout.

“Like I said, God knows.”

“But how do you know?”

“Because God told me.”

“Okay, you just lied,” my son said, “because I didn’t see you talking to anyone.”

And he was right. I didn’t really talk to God. Here I was teaching my son about honesty and I was being dishonest. A hypocrite. I swore I’d never be that kind of parent. Where’d I go wrong?

But I had good intentions with my lie. It wasn’t an evil lie. That’s right -- the old white lie/black lie speech. I’d heard it a hundred times as a kid. So I regurgitated it back to my son, explaining the difference between the black lie he told to avoid responsibility and my white lie, which I used to get him to tell the truth.

My son knew just what I was talking about -- he’s smarter than the average 6-year-old.

“Okay, Daddy, you wanna know who really started the trouble at day care?” he said. “The other kid did -- for reals.” And my little prince continued to sell me what he thought to be a white lie.

So I punished him for bad behavior and for bad white lying. And I tabled the “honesty” lesson for another time . . . when the kid is older . . . when I can say I did all I could . . . when I can blame public schooling for his lack of truthfulness, and avoid any responsibility whatsoever for his dishonesty. It’ll honestly be the truth.

-June 2010

Friday, February 25, 2011

Parenting Magazines Are For Moms

Parenting magazines have it all wrong.

Sure, they offer great tips, and stories one can relate to, and they showcase great products parents can purchase to make raising children easier and more affective. I know this. That’s why I bought a stack of parenting magazines the other day when I was feeling like a bad dad to my 6-year-old son.

But as I flipped through a few pages, I noticed the ridiculousness inside. About halfway through, I tossed it aside and grabbed another magazine. I found the same ridiculousness. The third publication was worse. There’s “ridiculous” and then there’s “really ridiculous.” Then you’ve got these parenting magazines.

“These parenting magazines are terrible,” I told my wife. “They’re totally, 100 percent, completely geared toward moms, not parents. Every single one of these articles in every single one of these magazines refers to me -- the reader -- as a mom.”

Dads aren’t moms, right, readers? We didn’t give birth to our kids. We don’t get postpartum depression. Our abs didn’t separate during our pregnancies. We were never pregnant!

“Oh, look,” I said to my wife, finally able to point out a dad in one of the magazines. “It’s a dad. He’s got the kids for a few hours and they’re covered in chocolate. He’s an emotional wreck and the house makes massive earthquake damage look like a little bit of debris in the streets. Turn the page and look: Mom’s back with the kids -- who are clean and happy -- and the house is immaculate. Life’s good again.”

My wife grabbed one of the magazines and thumbed through it, looking for some proof that the magazines aren’t all wrong.

“Here’s something,” she said. “A dad changing his kid’s diaper.”

I ripped the magazine out of her hands. “On a pool table? I’m not that irresponsible. I’d at least do it on the kitchen table.”

My wife perused further. “Here,” she said. “Happy dad. Happy kids. Very responsible parenting.”

I kid you not -- the headline for the article was: “Dads can also have fun with their kids.”

“WHAT?” I felt like Lou Ferrigno as the Hulk. In a flash of anger, I tore the magazine to shreds. “Oh, I guess moms think most dads can’t have fun with their kids.” My son came into the room right about the time I was Lou Ferrigno-ing the magazine.

“Oooo, can I rip up some, too, Daddy?”

“No,” I said. “And I don’t want you ripping up any other magazines either.”

“But I wanna be like Daddy,” he said.

“Not according to these magazines.”

My wife told me that dads don’t read parenting magazines, which is why they’re geared toward moms.

“Then they should be called Mother Magazine or Mommy Monthly,” I said. “The word ‘parent’ refers to moms and dads.”

“You can still benefit from the information.”

“I sure can,” I said. Then, skipping through a magazine that was still in one piece, pointing to examples, I added, “But I don’t want to ‘know what makes me feel pretty.’ I don’t want to make sure I ‘get a girls’ night out.’ Oh, look -- here’s a bit on ‘making memories with your child.’ I see Mommy in the picture. Where the heck is Daddy?”

“Yeah, Mommy,” my son said, “what about Daddies? Daddies are parents, too, you know.”

“Okay, okay,” I said to my son, “this isn’t your battle.”

“But I wanna complain, too, Daddy.” He grabbed a magazine and ripped it in half.

“No,” I yelled. I could see my picture in one of those parenting magazines -- a complaining dad and his copycat kid complaining, too. And the article: “Don’t let your husband negatively influence your child.” Now I was really feeling like a bad dad.

So I spent the next couple hours reading my remaining parenting magazine. Sure, I felt a bit feminine, especially when the articles kept referring to me as a woman. And I’ll admit I was afraid another man would catch me reading it and call me a “Mr. Mom.” But I learned a great deal.

Now I know what I must do to fit into that bathing suit by summer. I know what it takes to join those “Mommy and Me” clubs. I know which lipsticks last the longest for those busy Mommy-filled days. And I now know what to expect when menopause hits.

-April 2010

Easter Must Wait!

My family took out our Easter stuff last weekend and I discovered that my Easter basket from childhood was missing.

“You threw it out last year,” my wife told me.

“That’s my Easter basket from childhood,” I said. “I would NEVER throw that out.”

My son found the Easter eggs in one of the boxes of decorations. He asked if he could hide them in the house for the “practice” Easter egg hunts we do the week before Easter every year.

“Sorry, son,” I said. “There will be no Easter until we find my Easter basket.”

I tore apart our Easter boxes, tossing decorations aside like wrapping paper torn off Christmas gifts, going through Easter grass strand by strand in search of my basket.

“What are you doing?” my wife asked.

“Life stops until I find my basket,” I said.

“I’m positive you threw it out.”

“I believe you,” I said. “But I didn’t throw it out.”

My son asked if we could use his Easter basket for the Easter egg hunt -- a good idea. My son is a real problem-solver. I told him no.

“Remember it broke?” my wife said. “That’s why you got rid of it.”

“If that basket is broken,” I said, “I’ll be furious.”

“It already broke and you were furious. And you threw it away.”

“Even if it broke, I’d try to fix it first.”

“You did try to fix it first,” she said. “And when you couldn’t fix it, you threw it away.”

“Even if I tried to throw it away, I would’ve stopped myself. I woulda buried it in the backyard and we’d be paying tribute to it now.”

“Daddy, I found my basket,” my son said, running up to me with his basket. “Can we do the-”

“We’re not looking for eggs with that thing,” I said, pointing to his cheap little basket. “We’re not looking for anything except my Easter basket from my childhood.”

My wife said she’d buy me a new basket.

“There is no new basket,” I said, “because if it’s new, then it’s not from my childhood. And if it’s not from my childhood, then it doesn’t have memories.”

There was that time my basket and I found the most eggs in the biggest Easter egg hunt my family ever had. It was in that basket that I received my Joe Montana rookie football card from the Easter Bunny one year. That basket had a great, timeless design. And it was durable, too. Yeah, it was durable.

“There’s no way that thing broke,” I told my wife. “That thing was durable.”

“Isn’t this the broken piece from your basket?” she asked, holding up a broken piece from my prized Easter basket.

“That is part of my basket,” I said. “Where’d you get that?”

“Now do you believe me that it broke and you threw it-”

“I told you I didn’t throw it out. We need to look harder.”

“Daddy, I hid the eggs,” my son said, handing me his empty Easter basket.

“I told you not to hide those eggs,” I said. “Now go find them.”

“But you’re supposed to be the hunter,” he cried.

I ripped apart my entire house. I couldn’t find my Easter basket. My wife followed me around with the broken piece of basket in hand, telling me I threw out the basket.

“I know you loved that basket,” my wife said, “but it’s gone. You were upset when it broke. You tried to fix it. You called your mom and asked where she bought it 30 years ago. You called Kmart, you looked online, but you couldn’t find it and you gave in and threw it out.”

I stopped.

“And I announced,” I said, “that we’d buy a new basket next year. I do remember that. And I was going to bury my childhood basket in the backyard but then you said to throw it away. So I threw it away. Then, later that night, I got up out of bed when everyone was asleep and dug it out of the trash and buried it in the backyard.”

“Daddy, I got all the eggs,” my son said, trudging up to me with his basket full of plastic eggs.

“Now go hide them for our hunt,” I told the boy. “I’ll be right back. I’m going digging.”

-April 2010