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As a father who works with a lot of people who don’t have kids, I try not to be that guy.

That look-at-the-cute-thing-my-kid-did guy.

At least not too much.

And I try to keep my bloggery a little higher order as well – the subconscious motivations of bathtub games, the existential ramifications of blow-outs, play-doh trafficking, that sort of thing.

But sometimes the mind of a toddler shrugs off all filters literary and paternal. Sometimes, you have to hear the word from the man himself.

This morning, at breakfast, discussing a trip to Duluth, MN.

“Duluth! It is so far. Duluth is so far like Africa. We must skate to Africa! You. Must. Know. How. To. Skate! On a skateboard! I know how to skate: you put one foot on. You put one foot off. And then you skate! We must skate to Africa! So quickly!”

So there.

skate africa

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Every Man Has His Price

BRIBERY

Did you know that in the Thai language, there’s no word for “corruption?”

Like some African languages don’t differentiate between “sing” and “dance,” and New Jerseyan dialects have no word for “shame,” corruption in Thai culture is so commonplace, so intrinsic to getting anything done that they don’t have a word for it.

This is a concept I ponder as I fill my backpack with illicit substances intended for coercion and bribery.

Yes, I’m a mule. I’m a play doh mule.

Toddlers, like cats, are generally inclined to do some things and not so inclined towards others. And, like cats, getting toddlers to do anything they’re not otherwise inclined towards involves creativity.

To get a toddler to run around, all you have to do is wait for two minutes (or two seconds, if it’s my Little Man we’re talking about). But to get them to eat vegetables, or wash their hair or use a kleenex or go to the dentist or any of the million little feats of courtesy and hygiene that comprise our days – to get them to do these things requires…persuasion.

And you try to go the high road. You start early with them, you build these things into routines, you lead by example, you just plain tell them to do it ten times a day every day for a year and a half, you try. Because it’s better in the long run if they wash their hair expecting only cleanliness as a reward.

This, after all, is the foundation of those higher principles of fairness and justice and all those lofty ideals embodied and enforced by Chuck Norris and Karma. The institutions of civilization itself are based on the idea that there is a “right thing to do” and that there is a morality both collective and objective.

Of course, all this socio-philosophical peacockery is worth as much as a full diaper pail when it comes to getting a Little Man’s hair washed.

We could hold him down. And we could also force feed him green veggies. But something tells me this might backfire in the long term. A neuroses-free adult this would not make. Better to try DeCartes on him.

Or you could promise play doh after he’s done.

Not the most noble of approaches, but as Thailand can historically attest to, it is remarkably effective. And parenting, at times, is a dirty business. Just ask pampers. Leave the contemplation of morality to theologians and the individual’s social responsibility to the guys who wrote The Wire, I’ve got a toddler who’s head smells like last week’s milk. I didn’t see nothing. I don’t know nothing. I wasn’t there, and if I was, I was asleep.

 

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In Theory, Communism Would Have Worked.

This blog is a blog of ideals.

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It is a blog where arguments are rational, where philosophy is applied successfully, and where change and personal growth occur when enlightenment is achieved.

It is, therefore, nothing at all like reality. It is a blog of the should, not the is.

I’ve used this bloggatry to wax paterno-sophical on the existential dilemma of American Masculinity, on the universality of victimization in relation to bullying, and about how awesome coffee is. And it’s all bulls**t. The literary navel-gazing of a guy who wrote one too many collegiate essays on cultural relativism and post-modern feminist theater in Latin America.

Live the struggle, sisters. Viva.

But I can admit this. I should admit this, if you’re into that whole callback thing.

Today, for example. We were hanging out at Choo Choo Bob’s train store when a boy of about 4-5 started horning in on Little Man’s train narrative. Just stood around by the table for a while, then tried taking Percy, the number 6 green engine.

You don’t go grabbin another man’s Percy.

But it’s obvious to me, as I write this, that this boy wanted, or even needed interaction. His brother was maybe one and a half, not really able to play on his level. His mom was off in another part of the store trying to get signal for her phone. The boy was bored and not the type to play quietly by himself – he wasn’t malicious, or cruel, he just didn’t have the emotional awareness to just ask “Can I play with you?”

This should have been an opportunity to work on sharing with my Little Man, to make new friends and play together.

Should, again. Should have been.

What actually happened was I refrained from giving the little engine thief a suplex, and instead told him he could play with any of the other green engines on any of the other tables but that Little Man was using this one.

The boy lamely responded with a “Well…”

And I actually said “Well what?”

To a 4 year old.

Seriously.

I was that guy.

But this boy, the Little Man and myself were the only 3 people in a room of 9 freakin train tables. Nine! Five of which, and this is no exaggeration, were set up exactly the same! And he has to play on this one? With this engine?

Not my most shining moment, as a Papa.

I can’t help but wonder what Obie award-winner, and Pulitzer Prize holder Maria Irene Fornes would have done.

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Mea Culpa

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It’s not that I haven’t been writing. It’s just that I haven’t been writing here.

You can see my witty turns of phrase over here and here.

But really, I got nothing. I could blame my day job, which wouldn’t be inaccurate. I could blame the fact that spring keeps teasing MN and then we go back to single digits and snow. I could blame climate change, Obamacare, I could blame all this and more, which might be good practice. Blame being such an essential part of raising a healthy child.

He types ironically.

I won’t strut and fret too much here about writing and not and the tragedy of both, since I already said it all in this post. I just wanted to check back in – I’ve got a couple more posts coming in the next few days, then I’ll get back to posting every Wednesday, regular as a toddler on a high melon diet.

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Don’t Let The Bastards Get You Down

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It’s not an easy thing, Fatherhood.

Really, when you get down to the bones of the thing, Fatherhood could be characterized as a collection of things you wouldn’t normally do, but really can’t avoid.

With the exception of those 10 minutes or so in the very beginning that got you into this whole mess.

Cleaning up various fluids, paying for appointments and equipment and such, shifting the entire focus of your conscious identity. It’s not an easy thing, Fatherhood.

And yet, I can’t say that I hate it. At it’s worst, it can be unpleasant, uncomfortable, tedious, even. But there’s really no part of I could say I hate.

Except…

Occasionally…

Other parents.

Specific other parents. Not “other parents” as a demographic – generally, parenthood is the best of social clubs. Age, class, language, ethnicity -  the camaraderie between parents crosses all boundaries. We’ve all been exactly where you are.

Which makes it all the worse when you run into that one parent. That smug, judgmental parent.

Now, this is the internet: Russia has no gays, China’s a free society, and America is a peace-loving Democracy. We’re all hypothetical here.

So, in our hypothetical html reality we could imagine a family being part of a study. And we could imagine that family having people in their home to evaluate things for said study. And we can imagine one of these evaluators being a parent.

Hypothetically. This is all a thought experiment.

So, hypothetically we can imagine the condescension and judgment rolling off this evaluator (who is, shimself, a parent). Rolling of them like polar vortices down Lake Street in March as this evaluator observes a child having no part in the evaluations. We can even imagine, though we don’t want to, this evaluator laughing as the aforementioned child breaks into tears over his anxiety about the whole thing.

Imagining this entirely hypothetical situation makes me very angry.

This hypothetical person is someone I find myself hating. Someone I find myself plotting against. I don’t want to hurt them, not physically, I don’t want to do anything disproportionate. No, I just want to professionally discredit them, ruin any reputation they may possess – clandestine investigation and anonymous emails, that sort of thing.

Well, maybe I do want to hurt them physically. But not seriously.

Hypothetically speaking, of course.

But I check myself. Hypothetical or not, the desire to lash out after you’ve been hurt is a childish reaction. And if a good papa is only one thing, childish ain’t that thing. That job is well covered by the dude with the hippo on his shirt over there playing with a balloon.

And, believer as I am in the inherent quality of your average human, yet I must concede that there will be no shortage, on this long road of his childhood, of twats. There will, in fact, be an abundance of twats. And frankly, giving fucks now would not only set a poor precedent, but also, within a matter of hours, leave me entirely depleted of fucks.

So I take the lesson, and am, in reflection, grateful for the thought experiment, unpleasant as it was. Just as the Little Man must learn to deal with budding jerks in the playrooms and parks of his world, so must I also learn to deal with jerks in full bloom at those same locations.

It’s not an easy thing, Fatherhood.

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I Regret Air

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The fact that I work in the arts should indicate that either I have no regrets or that they flow from me like media gaffes from a Toronto mayor.

The former, I’d say, is closer to the truth.

I’d developed a philosophy in my heady youth, which I articulated to a friend one night, drunk on grappa and my twenties. “Enjoy it or learn from it, but don’t regret it.”

This is a fantastic and even slightly practical approach to the vicissitudes of life as a young, straight, white male, but loses some of its oomph after the onset of fatherhood.

Regrets, for a papa, seem as frequent and intense as bad coffee, and mean about as much.

At some point during the last three years, for example, I’ve regretted the following: evolution, the laws of physics as they relate to inertia, the arbitrariness of the imperial system of measurement, and dogs.

I’ve also regretted the fact that I didn’t get more done back when I had time even when I thought I didn’t. If you don’t have kids, you have time. You have buttloads of time

This morning the Little Man fund one of my Irish whistles. And so far today I’ve regretted any musical inclinations I’ve ever had, my Irish ancestry, my parents’ support of my artistic endeavors, the careers of Shane MacGowan and the Pogues, and air.

I regret air.

Why didn’t I hide that damn whistle?

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Love Conquers All. Except Maybe Jet Li

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“Mama, did you have a good day today?”

Was a question my son asked – unprompted, I might add – at dinner the other night. It was quickly followed by, “And did you have a favorite part of the day?”

These 2 questions are my definition of love these days.

Yes. It’s a little late for Valentine’s day. But it’s still within the “Valentine’s Day Weekend,” and anyway Gandalf didn’t show up until after Helm’s Deep had basically already fallen, and yet he still managed to pull off a win.

I’m not late because Gandalf.

But so anyway, the thing about these two questions that defines love for me isn’t that my sweet little three year old is inquiring after the relative aggregate emotional quality of his mother’s previous 12 hours. I’m pretty sure he’s only recently aware that other people actually have emotional reactions. For me, it’s about what led up to those questions.

Now, I’m sure he’d be happy to learn that she had a good day. He’d probably even be unhappy to learn she had a bad one, but whichever way she answered, he’d eat some more melon and then watch cartoons, and he’d go about his routine and continue to try to make some sort of sense out of a massive world he’s only just getting a handle one. There would be some retention, of course, some sort of understanding of the interaction, but that’s like picking one thug out of a Steven Seagal movie and saying “There, see? That young man learned his lesson!”

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The point I’m trying to make is that my son didn’t ask those questions because he actually cared, at least not entirely. He asked them because that’s what we do

I mean, he cares, it’s not like he’s a sociopath, he’s just 3.

But it’s routine, is the thing. Routine is very important to toddlers. We always go to preschool on the same days, we always have a snack on the way home, we always read the same books in bed, and when we eat dinner together we always ask each other if we had a good day, and what our favorite part was.

We’ve been doing this for most of his life. Every time we eat dinner together, for the last 2 years or so, whether he answers or not, we ask him those questions, and we ask each other.

Now, I’m an idiot. And a romantic, at heart. Underneath the layers of cynicism I do actually believe in love at first sight, and True Love and Soul Mates, and the Chupacabra. But I also believe that I could beat Jet Li in a Kung Fu battle.

Not, like, right now. I’d have to train. Constantly. And become a Cyborg.

Which is the key point. Love, like conquering Jet Li, takes work. It takes daily, hourly, constant effort and attention. Somewhere, somehow, there may be two human beings in a relationship who understand each other so perfectly that they never have a misunderstanding, that they never have to stop and think about how their behavior affects their partner, but they must be hanging out with the Chupacabra because nobody’s ever seen them.

It took two years of nightly, conscious effort to build up to the Little Man asking his mama if she had a good day. 730 days (give or take) invested for 10 seconds worth of words at the dinner table. This is love. And those two questions from this wonderful little human were worth every minute.

Happy Valentines Day…Weekend

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