Friday, February 2, 2018

Horrible dads attract horrible stuff


I knew right then I had the flu, even though, days later, I was fine, not another sneeze or other symptom to be found.

But horrible stuff happens all the time, so I wasn’t being ridiculous with my assumptions. Still, I wondered if my negativity was attracting the horrible stuff. There I go being negative again.


My 11-year-old son’s breath was a sign he wasn’t brushing and a sign that the dentist would surely have to perform several surgical extractions very, very soon.

And there I was, going from zero to 300 again.

“You have to brush your teeth better,” I told the kid while he was getting ready for bed one night. “And did you use soap in the shower? I can’t smell it.”

Later I checked the kid’s soap bottle—empty. I didn’t say a word. I waited for him to tell me there was no more soap. Two weeks later I had to let him know. He thought water was all he needed to get clean.

“What if he gets staph infections?” I said to my wife afterward. “Or lupus?”

“You can’t get lupus from not using soap,” she told me.

Maybe not, but the kid wasn’t going to get ahead in life by taking short cuts. I had to hold him accountable for his poor workmanship.

I bought soap and told him that if I didn’t smell it on him, I’d do the worst thing he could possibly imagine and make him take another shower. Same with his teeth brushing—if I didn’t find his work satisfactory, he’d have to brush them again and again until it was.

I had an image in my head of one horrible dad. I was looking just like him, not teaching my son how to do things right, just criticizing him for it.

I’d send him back to the sink and the shower at least three times a night. The kid was miserable, so much so I could use showering and teeth brushing as punishment for bad behavior.

“Why were you fooling around in class? Go brush your teeth. Keep it up and you’re gonna take a shower.”

Seeing this horrible image of me made me realize I had to make some changes. But then, one day, my son got all the plaque off his teeth. And he smelled new after every shower. Maybe I wasn’t such a horrible dad after all.

But horrible dads are like killers in slasher films—you can stab ‘em, shoot them, burn ‘em, tie ‘em to tactical ballistic missiles and fire ‘em into minefields, and they’ll keep popping up to get you. That horrible dad in me stopped checking my son’s work and, eventually, he was back to being on the brink of losing teeth and getting lupus. Horrible, horrible dad!

Why, at 11 years old, wasn’t my son self-sufficient? I was a horrible dad, and there was nothing I could do about it except embrace the horrible dad in me. Where was my dirty tee? And my beer? And, “Hand me that remote, I’ll be in front of the TV for two weeks straight.”

As days passed, the horrible dad in me kept telling me that I was doing all I could do. This imaginary character in my mind said the problem wasn’t me—it was my son. He said my boy was going to have to learn the hard way. He said the kid would learn soon enough. The horrible dad in me tried to make me feel better, but it wasn’t working.

That’s when I realized the horrible dad in me wasn’t so horrible. He cared about me and had ideas of my son doing better, which meant he had feelings after all.

The problem: My negativity was attracting the horrible stuff. What I needed was a positive attitude in order to attract the good stuff.

So I became optimistic about my horrible dadliness. If I was going to be horrible, then I was going to be amazingly horrible.

“If you don’t want to take a shower the right way,” I told my boy, “then I’ll wash you like when you were a baby, and then we’ll achieve cleanliness.”

The thought of me seeing him naked made him wash well. He even did a good job when I wasn’t checking his work. I knew this because I’d do the smell test on him when he was asleep. He began doing quality work in all areas of his life for fear I’d treat him like a 2-year-old. I let the good stuff roll.


My wife announced that she had the flu, even though it was just a sneeze.

“Why do you go from zero to 300 like that?” I asked her. “You gotta be more positive like me.”

“You used to care when I got sick.”

I had an image in my head of one horrible husband.

-February 2015

Friday, January 12, 2018

Winter brrr-becue for the brrr-ds

It was January. And what a perfect time to be outside in the sun.

My wife, our 11-year-old boy and I went on a morning hike. In Southern California, you can do that. Still, my wife had our kid bundled up for an Indiana blizzard.

He hated that. Even if his lips were blue and his fingers were icicles, he was “fine.” He insists that he’s “all grown up” and “a man,” though we have to nag him every night to take a shower like he was still 10. What do boys have against showering anyway?

On the way back home from the hike, our son proposed a barbecue for dinner. He knew what was coming, and he was all set to fire back.

“It’s winter,” my wife said on cue.

“It’s burning,” the kid shot back.

“It’s gonna be cold by dinnertime.”

“It’s gonna be fine.”

It was all settled -- no barbecue.

Then Grandpa called. “Wanna barbecue?”

Our son promised he’d tell us if he got cold at any time during the meal. He loves eating outdoors.

Others on the block had the same idea -- that sweet aroma of smoking briquettes was floating through the neighborhood the same way I wished the smell of our trash wasn’t. Who throws out leftovers the day after trash pickup? (That’s another story.)

“How about a game of bocce ball or some ice cream?” our son suggested to get into the barbecue mood. “Or how about we go swimming?”

“We can’t do any of that right now,” I told him. “Grandpa and I have to barbecue.”

“I’ll be helping, too, Dad,” the kid replied. “All three of us men will be barbecuing.”

We three “men” were living it up, talking about manly things like the oppression of the modern husband, and cooking up all kinds of meat -- steak, chicken, hot links (not mild).

“Men don’t ‘cook’,” my son corrected me when I said it. “We work with slabs of meat and fire.”

The steak was taking too long. We should’ve gotten thinner meat. The cold was coming in, and we needed at least another hour for even medium-rare. Winter was definitely amongst us -- I had to put on a sweatshirt (Welcome to Southern California!).

In no time, my wife was suggesting we eat inside where we wouldn’t be so cold.

“Who’s this ‘we’ stuff?” our son said.

“You’ll be cold out here,” she told him.

“Maybe you’ll be cold,” he replied, “but we men will be fine.”

I agreed that we’d be fine. My wife bundled up and brought out a few hundred layers of clothing for our kid. When it came time to eat, Grandpa rolled the barbecue close to my wife and his grandson so the flame would keep them warm. Great idea!

Our son thought it was a bad idea. He saw Grandpa and me in the cold and was jealous. He wanted to be cold, too.

“I’m burning,” he announced.

“Fine,” my wife and I gave in. “Take off your jacket, freeze to death if you want.”

He took off his jacket and put on a big smile. He wasn’t shivering at all.

I could see what was going on in his mind:

The scene took place in Alaska or the North Pole, and we were all lost in a snowdrift. My wife and I were frozen. Our son gave his only jacket to his mother. “You’re such a man,” she told her strong boy. Then he cut a hole in the ice with his bare hands, dove into the icy-cold lake below and came up with some fish in his teeth for us to eat. He was grinning. He was in deathly-cold water and he was grinning.

And then I could see a bunch of girls in provocative winter wear blowing kisses to our son for his manliness. Wives know what we’re thinking. She kicked me under the table and I lost the telepathic transmission.

We made it through the dinner. Our son did great in the cold. He was still wearing that smile.

After cleaning up, the boy actually volunteered to take a shower. He ran into the bathroom and didn’t even take an hour to undress like usual. And the showering took longer than his normal two minutes.

Three hours later, when he turned off the water, he was completely thawed out.

-January 2015