Pride Goeth Before a Foam Helmet

You can buy a Roman Gladiator costume.

You can, you know. They’re out there on the world wide web (that’s what they call it these days, right? The young people?).

But here, look. Here’s one. This has all the stuff : capes and breastplates and helmets, even. Right?

And it’s like, 40 bucks. Not thrifty living, exactly, but not bad either. And you can buy it. Anybody could. Regular dads who don’t make stuff could buy them. And dads who work in props at flagship regional theaters could buy them, too.

They could.

They could also wear sweatpants and walk around Walmart eating peanut butter out of the jar with a chocolate bar as a spoon. They could do a lot of things.

Pride is not your enemy, necessarily. Pride drives us to leave the nest, develop life skills. Pride drives us to shower at least enough so we don’t smell, it drives us to , if not actually wear clean pants, to know we should be wearing clean pants.

But then pride can, of course, insert itself in unwanted ways. If your son wants to trick or treat as a Roman Gladiator, and your job involves mixing fake blood , constructing fancy French pastries, and hot-wiring remote control sheep, pride is what whispers in your ear.

Pride is what comes out of your mouth, in your own voice, saying “Shit, I can do that.”

Was it Pride that researched the internet for how-to videos?

Nah, that was me.

Was it Pride that bought barge cement and EVA foam in two different thicknesses from two different stores? Again, that was mostly me, but Pride was definitely part of making my own templates out of a wig form head, tin foil, and duct tape. And Pride was definitely involved in starting over again when the first try was too small.

This here? This is Pride gluing the pieces together.IMG_4441

And here’s Pride making the face-plate and giving it a primer coat of silicone caulk to smooth it all out.IMG_4449

And look at Pride’s base-coat of plasti dip!IMG_4450

At this point again, I’d like to point out that I could have just bought a damn helmet online by —

Pride’s cutting up a broom to make the crest! Check that out! Better barge and clamp that thing for a tight bond, Pride!IMG_4452

And Gasp! The finished product, modeled by Pride!IMG_4454

Who knew you could have a top-quality foam Romanish helmet after only two weeks of every minute of stolen free time and four trips to various craft and hardware stores? Certainly not me!

And to think that there are people who just buy costumes at reasonable prices on line.

Suckers.

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Gaze Not Into the Meathead, Or The Meathead Will Gaze Into You

sports dad

If you’d asked me twenty years ago if I’d ever have a nice thing to say about Barney the Purple Dinosaur, I probably would have snorted derisively, done a spry jig on young, healthy knees, and slept till 11:00am the next day out of pure scorn.

And yet, Linkage!

If you’d asked me ten years ago if I’d ever be non plussed with someone else’s feces on my face, why I’d probably curse loudly and with abandon at just how wrong you were, then I’d make plans to do things with friends and spend my disposable income on some slick breakable technology that was only for me.

And yet, here we are.

Maybe it’s a function of time, maybe of age, but from where I stand amongst the legos and school notifications, it seems that Fatherhood is an exercise in disabusing yourself of any lines in te sand you may previously have thought drawn.

All the things I never thought I’d be, all the things I never thought I’d do.

Like caring about sports.

Local news, Bored Panda, they’ve all so clearly defined all the worst things about parents at their kids’ sporting events. Even the most mustachio’d of suburbanites, belly straining against his polo shirt would pause from yelling at the little league umpire to watch a parenting fail GIF on his phone and think, “well, surely, that’s not me!”

No, but really, that’s not me. The closest thing I get to sports fandom is watching RuPaul’s Drag Race. I don’t even get competitive on the on-ramp. I can sing along to West Side Story, dammit, I would never be that guy.

And yet, and yet…

So Little Man’s on the swim team at the Y. He’s got a couple buddies doing it, it’s a good physical outlet for a physical dude with only one 30-minute recess, and shit, they bus them right from school. Sign me up.

And but so, this is germane to nothing in the blog post, but can we talk about the ridiculous requirements of being a swim team family? So we’re already paying above and beyond fees and business for it. But we also have to volunteer. Oh, and he’s got to wear a team swimsuit, which he has to be fitted for and order special for a limited-run-22-oz-craft-brewed-imperial-stout-with-apricots-and-bacon-dollars for. And this is for swim team. Thank Elvis he doesn’t play hockey.

But so swim team. But so swim meets.

Be me, at a required swim meet that I woke up at 6am to go to.

My first meet. I’ve navigated where not to be, I’ve drunk all the espresso I’ve brought with me. I’ve silently commiserated from afar with all the Papas (and Mamas) surrounding me, joined in common struggle to be awake watching children wearing expensive mandated team gear splash forward in lines

And then the first event begins. And holy shit, did I care.

I mean, I caught it before it got out of hand. And to be clear, my guy wasn’t even in the water yet. This was an event with, like, two girls flailing in the chlorine bath. But one of these girls was on my son’s team.

And it mattered. It mattered that her splashing was faster than the other girls’ splashing. What was her name? Damned if I know. But her swim cap had a water weasel on it and the other girl’s didn’t And so, that other, non-water-weasel girl became my enemy.

Sanity won the day, thankfully. I was able to catch and put the kibosh on that whole situation. But for how long?

My god, what have I become?

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On Identity, Sausage, and the Treacherous Memory

guy fieri and his weiner

I am, in many ways, a man of contradiction.

I have favorite musicals. Plural. And yet I like to watch boxing and MMA

I will push myself to the point of vomiting if someone passes me on the bike trail. And yet I never, ever stand if I don’t have to.

I am utterly flummoxed as to why anyone would add anything to perfectly good whiskey. Cocktails be damned.

And yet I will pile anything and everything made available to me upon my bratwurst.

That’s not innuendo.

Cheese, Chili, bacon, kim chi, whipped cream, other bratwurst: I will make available the real estate. I am vehemently pro-population density when it comes to sausage accoutrements.

But this was not always the case.

I grew up in Iowa, where corn was corn and pork was pork and salad was iceberg lettuce and bacon bits. And my palette (if such a word applies) was suited perfectly to my surroundings. Pizza could turn my head, Mac and Cheese, peanut butter, meatloaf smothered in ketchup, and Hardees on my birthday. These were a few of my favorite things.

You could blame my distaste for a plant-based diet on the fact that most of it, in my tractor and ATV-ridden landscape, came out of a bag in the frozen aisle at Wilke’s Supermarket. You could do that, and you’d have a point. But mine was a child’s palette. When you’re in fourth grade, a dislike for carrots can pass for a personality. And if you really don’t like grapes, then shit, you’re practically funny.

I didn’t even like eggs back then. I’d throw one on a brat now, though. Hook that the heck up.

This is front of mind now, only because my Little Man has only recently developed a taste for buttered noodles. And I watch him as though seeing myself at his age and wonder, “When did I change?”

Of course, like any good heterosexual white male, my initial response is denial. I haven’t changed! I’m still relevant!

But these assertions are refuted rather handily by, respectively, the perpetual presence of Sri Racha in my fridge, and the condition of my pants as a whole. And this is leaving social media out of it entirely.

But seriously, I’m unable to track this. I could point to albums that changed my taste in music, books that shaped my current reading habits or my thoughts on politics, spirituality, human nature – if I dig down I could give a 20/20 hindsight account of the road to now. But food? I’m up the sushi river with no wasabi.

Which, put that on a brat. Bam!

This doesn’t bother me, exactly. What with the full time job and the family and all these Star Wars movies that keep coming out, and the world situation nowadays. Who has time for a crisis of gustatory identity?

Not this papa.

No, such meanderings should be indulged, I feel, for they do sometimes yield insight.

Sometimes.

Sometimes though, they only yield memories of eating frosting out of the can with a spoon.

I’m comfortable remaining, in this case at least, a mystery even unto myself.

Now pass me that fish sauce and some sprinkles.

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Lean On Me

joe-clark_lean-on-me

Did you know that dragonfly larvae, when they hatch from an egg, just swim right off to stalk, chase, and kill other insects and wee tiny fish? Well they do.

Baby horses (foals, so the literature tells me) can run within an hour or so of being born.

Baby humans need to be taught to eat. To eat. And then, after they’ve got a handle on the process, they often need to be convinced. To eat.

It’s not breaking news that kids rely completely on their parents for even the most basic of needs. Ice Cube, Tim Allen, Michael Keaton – dozens of actors have paid off millions of dollars of alimony doing films based entirely on this fact.

I’ve done my time on the changing table. I’ve stayed up late steaming and puree-ing vegetables for a developing palette, and I’ve tried to explain why sticking your hand in a blender is a bad idea. None of this is unique to me. I’m not going to add anything of substance to the canon.

Instead, I want to talk about all the ways I rely on him.

And not in the way I rely on him to help me fix my bike by testing how the pedals spin.

I’m talking about those times when I can’t tune into the news. When humanity has shown me it’s most fearful, most savage and empty self. When all of the lessons we as a nation, as a culture, as a species really should have learned by now are replayed again and again with all the old, stupid cruelty, and all the latest special effects

You can’t be on social media, you can’t be watching TV and not feel this shared national schizophrenia. Surely this can’t be actually happening. Surely the smart people will restore reason and order.

Yeah, they aren’t. Yeah, it’s actually happening.

The first step of any form of meditation is breathing. Before you do anything else related to enlightenment, you must focus on the process by which you take in oxygen and expel CO2. It’s a return to the basic, the fundamentals of life. Appreciate that you live, and you can then proceed to anything else.

So it is with my son. When all that is petty, and for sale, and tailored to the user overwhelms me, I return to my son. To my relationship with him, which has come to define me. It is my breath, it is the fundament of my existence. When I seek down in my abdomen for the invisible line that connects me to him, it is as firm and as real as crossing the Lake St bride over the Mississippi. It is clear and solid and beyond any doubt what is important, what is significant to me. And everything else recedes into the distractions they are.

I’ve relied on this a lot lately.

I know he needs me to help him with his pants. I know he’ll forget his backpack going out to catch the schoolbus.

I don’t think he’ll ever know what he really helps me with. But I could use somebody to turn the pedals while I tighten the brakes on my bike.

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Someday Never Comes

karatekidcrane

Some of you may already know already that my day job is not a day job. It is, in fact, a nights & weekends job. I’m one of those lucky perpetual adolescents who can make a living doing theater. This means none of my pants are new, I know which Ramen is the good Ramen, and my work schedule ebbs & flows like the leak in my water filter. Once every other month or so I work like a madman for 2 weeks, then we open the play and everything settles into a routine, and I work more like a congressman.

For those two weeks of crazy, everything gets put off like a supreme court nominee. Sleep? After opening night. Dishes? After opening night. Laundry? Well, look who thinks he’s the queen of England. Shall I fetch the stain stick your majesty?

All this is by way of saying that I’m professionally suited to putting stuff off. To everything there is a season. And that season is after opening night, dammit.

This life-triage gets plenty of use as a parent. Except instead of “after opening night” it’s either “after he goes to sleep” or “sometime in the next 20 years.”

I remember that first month back to work after Little Man made his entrance (or, technically, his exit) into the world. If I showed up to work on time, fully dressed and functionally awake, everything else could wait.

And now for something completely different.

A few months ago there was a huffpo article making the rounds on the facetagrams and the chatsnaps. It basically told all the creative types to chill out. If you’re having writer’s block, then relax, wait, you’re inspiration just hasn’t come. If you’re struggling with a painting that’s not coming together, then it just isn’t the time. The planets – the article said, in so many words – may not be aligned for you know. Don’t worry about it, the article said. Things will get better for you, just wait. The article said.

Which is bullshit.

As a writer, I’m going to tell you something and I want you to hear me when I say this: never, ever give a writer an excuse not to write. We have those. We have all of those already. If you’re having writer’s block, the last thing you should do is not write. What you need to do is not think. Copy somebody else’s stuff for a couple pages, write stream of consciousness, write what you’ve already written backwards. Work the muscle lightly till the cramp clears. If you don’t think your novel is any good, then write a bad novel. Write the worst novel known to literature. Because, unlike waiting for your inspiration, at the end of the process at least you will have written a novel.

And I’d extend this to painting, or wood-turning, or seed-portraiture or whatever discipline you’re in: if you’re struggling while making art, then make more art. Make crappy art fast and in great quantities for no one but yourself. Life will change – whatever circumstances you think are blocking you will change eventually. But then something else will come up, and instead of developing habits and routines and tricks that keep you creating you’ve been waiting for the damn planets to align.

Which brings us back to parenting.

There is no excuse like a baby. Especially for the introvert home body. Hygiene, appearance, courtesy, coherent speech – failures in any or all of these areas can totally be excused by a baby. Basically, a baby lets you look and act like a homeless dude.

And you can ride that train. It’s there. You earned it. But I found, as I was out in the world, interacting with other humans, that patience, like toilet paper, will eventually run out. And, like toilet paper, it never happens at a good time. There is no answer to the baby card once it’s played, it is the crane kick to vanquish all cobra kai. But only a jerk walks around in crane stance waiting to drop people.

There comes a time for every parent when the kid can no longer be an excuse for not having your act together. That time can be when the kid’s 18. Or when he’s 8. Or when he’s 8 months. There’s no right answer here, but, as with creating art, if you’re waiting for things to get better, they won’t. You’re always gonna worry. You’ll never have enough sleep again. The list of household chores, and emails/texts/calls to return, the pile of dishes – it never gets shorter, not for more than a few hours. It’s not about the circumstances changing, it’s about you. It’s about digging deeper, adding 5 minutes on to your allotted commute to make sure the stains are small and mostly out of sight. It’s about taking time after work to hang out with your coworkers even though you’ll be up in 4 hours. It’s about being a guy who supports the people around him rather than someone needing support.

And it sucks. And it can only be accomplished in tiny, steady steps.

I think what that huffpo article was trying (and failing) to do was teach people to forgive themselves. I think, as parents, we come to drown ourselves in the needs of others, in the expectations of lists and bills and obligations. It’s a drastic thing to completely surrender the idea that your life is about you, instead of this other little person. And eventually you do catch up to yourself, and then you try to implement these changes that I’m talking about. You try to return to some semblance of functional adult. And I’m just gonna tell you now: you’re going to fail. You’re gonna fail a bunch. It’s gonna be like junior high again. But it’s okay. Forgive yourself. Everybody fails. Batman failed, like, lots of times. Try again. Keep trying. Everybody’s trying, nobody really has it figured out, they’ve just been trying for longer.

But don’t wait for the perfect set up. It’s not coming. Anybody who tells you different is over 40 and does their parents’ laundry for an allowance.

 

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I Always Feel Like Somebody’s Watching Me

rockwell_1-48

Whenever I watch one of those Marvel SHIELD movies with the flying command centers and the jive talking robots I always cringe. But not in the places you’d think.

Anytime Samuel L Jackson talks to the computer, or somebody monkeys with some touchy-glass-holographic-interface-thing, I just think what a bitch that must be when it freezes up. You gotta turn it off and then wait a few seconds and then turn it back on again. Meanwhile Hydra’s gone and… the dark elves are…or, um aliens, I forget who’s gonna destroy the world this time. Or you say “shields!” but the newest upgrade has a bug in it and thinks you said “Biel!” and so does a search on Jessica Biel. On like, Bing, because who’s got time to reset the factory default?

And that’s just how it will break, that’s not even getting into Mr. SHIELD computer presenting Samuel L Jackson with different eyepatch manufacturer options based on his previous orders.

All this “smart,” cloud-based tech, all this business of your phone talking to your car or your fridge or your pants, it all just peppers me with angst, reduces me to a pimento loaf of misery. I’m not overly given to paranoia, but I shudder at the thought of all the eyes and algorithms keeping tabs on me and my browsering.

Of course, this whole fear of constant observation is a little odd considering I’m a parent. You want constant observation? Live with a baby.

The first time we sat little Man down at the table, he picked up his little spoon in his little paw, he scooped up some mashed avocado and popped it into his mouth. No one taught him that. No one explained it to him. They are always watching, cataloguing, filing away those things you do unconsciously so they can try it out later, when they have full control of their fingers.

If you’re lucky, if you’ve done the hard work on the ground, your kid might listen to you, might do what you say. But whether they listen to you or not, I absolutely guarantee that they will do what they see you do.

I see it in myself, a mixed-trait smoothie of both parents. If you can’t see it in yourself then you haven’t looked.

It becomes quite a rabbit hole, entirely apart from the nature vs. nurture discussion. Just the question of how far back, exactly, does my nose-picking tendency go? How many of my grandfathers before me didn’t answer questions if they were thinking about something? Is there some county in West Ireland where it first occurred to somebody to martyr themselves by not letting anyone else do any dishes?

But so listen, though. Reality is reality, and whatever it might do to your great-great-granddaughter’s ability to negotiate the sale of her start-up, the Little Man’s gotta have pants on if he’s going to get on the bus, on way or another. We can’t become paralyzed by the generational ramifications of every dumb tic we have. At the same time, our choices, our words, our actions all have effects, sometimes far reaching. Abuse begets abuse, self and otherwise.

My son is watching me when we’re out in the world. How I, as a man, treat women will influence how he, as a man, treats women as he grows older. If he has a son, then how I act towards women here, now, will affect how women are treated 50 years from now.

This kind of responsibility can be overwhelming, but then with great responsibility comes great power. All the dickish behavior I see in the world, all manner of pettiness and stupidity, it’s all within my power to counteract. If I show my son that I’m not a victim of my environment, if I teach him to act, not react, not to make excuses and not to give anyone else any either. If I can do this, then maybe my grandchildren can look back at my time with the uncomprehending disgust with which my generation views Jim Crow America.

And so, now that it’s almost 2am, and Little Man’s asleep. I’ll just watch a quick episode of Jersey Shore and then delete my browser history. I have to be the man I want him to be.

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Be Prepared

When I was a younger, more fiscally solvent man I spent a year teaching in Bangkok, Thailand. I was just out of college, full of debt and pretense but largely free of stuff. Moving from dorm room to dorm room for four years doesn’t encourage a fella to accumulate much beyond tolerance for squalor.

When I moved across 2 continents and an ocean for no less than a year, I traveled with 2 big duffel bags and a guitar case. There’s something exciting about traveling light – a little scary, a little bold. Every pair of underwear you leave at home gets you closer to Rambo.

If I had it to do over again, I’d pack even less. Like towels. I brought towels. Why did I bring towels? Thailand has towels. I can confirm this. One thing I didn’t bring was a first aid kit.

I don’t think I’ve ever packed a first aid kit on a trip.

I bring this up because I was on a trip to the University of MN Landscape Arboretum recently and we’d packed a first aid kit. And we needed it.

Here’s the story – Little Man’s first grade class was on a field trip. I was given the honor of chaperoning. One of the kids to a spill and did a face plant into gravel. Bumps occurred, bandages were administered, and the day was ours

This all drove home a fact which I’d often observed but never articulated: I moved to Bangkok. Bangkok. For a year. And I did it in 2 duffel bags. Today, my family of 3 will go for an overnight at the grandparents’ in the same amount of luggage. If not more.

It’s easy to be distressed by this until you realize it’s all a matter of expectation, a matter of what’s reasonable.

When you’re an adult, traveling alone or with other adults, it’s reasonable to expect that you won’t be bleeding from your head. Unless you’re going to Syria. It’s also reasonable to expect that neither you nor your companions will poop your pants.

When you travel with someone who only recently needed two hands to show you their age, it is not reasonable to expect such things. It is not advisable. You are courting disaster. Don’t f**king do it, is what I’m saying.

You pack differently depending on what you expect. How you pack for work is not how you pack for the zombie apocalypse. Even if you’re resourceful, you want to be prepared. If MacGuyver and Jason Bourne had a kid they would have a diaper bag, at least one change of clothes, (for the kid, maybe a shirt for themselves), a wet bag, a snack, a few towels/rags, the requisite toys, and coffee just to go on a grocery run.

Any parent will testify – you don’t have to be a boy scout, but you damn well better be prepared.

be-prepared-sign

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