Monthly Archives: July 2011

Genghis Khan’s Got Nothing On Me.

 

You know who was tough? Genghis Khan.

Lately I’ve been gripped by my legacy. Literally. He grabs my glasses and drools all over them. Behavior which I encourage, by the by; somebody in the next generation has to keep the nerds self-hating and socially awkward.

But being a father, you begin to think more about what you’ll leave behind for your kid. You begin to actually look at health insurance spam, you recycle, you buy a lot of Metallica on CD so that Rap Metal can never, ever happen again

I’ve also been reading a lot – which, beyond street signs and coffee labels is odd for new fathers. But there are two fairly recent books out about Genghis Khan and his wide-reaching legacy that I’ve read. Forget what you’ve learned from John Wayne movies, Genghis Khan (or Timogen to his peeps) was some shit. First recorded ruler to subject himself to the same laws as those he ruled. Guy invented diplomatic immunity, separation of church and state, created a written language for Mongolian, and conquered everyone and everything that could be conquered in the Eastern hemisphere in the 13th century.

And then he died, and then his sons drank and sexed and squabbled away the world

The second book is about his daughters, and how they basically were the only thing holding Mongolia together until they were taken out by their brothers or husbands or sons. The author comments that as much of a genius as Genghis Khan was about everything else, it was his failure as a father that led to the fall of the Mongolian empire.

An empire that spanned from the Pacific Ocean to the Mediterranean sea fell to savagery and ruin…all because he was a bad father.

I gotta get a 401k. And take my kid bowling.

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Lament for the Nazi Drug Dealers

So what is it with all the pedophile serial killers?

I mean, I’m a child of Television, my young social life consisted of Lettermen’s guests and when the first season of MASH (arguably the best) would cycle back around. But now I have a kid, and all of the sudden, every damn movie, hour-long drama, or mystery novel has some extremely fucked up violence towards children. Was this always there, and my frozen heart is only now beginning to thaw? I just don’t remember MacGuyver ever having to use backyard science to thwart John Wayne Gacy

Now, I lost any claims to delicacy a good half-dozen Helen Keller jokes ago, but this stuff is starting to get to me. I’ve always found Law & Order SVU pretty severe for prime time, but now some of the plot lines have me picking up Xe (formerly Blackwater) brochures.

I mean really, is this all we, as a culture, have left for boogeymen? The world is vast and terrifying, people, we can find all kinds of fantastic bad guys out there if we just look.  Yeah, The Wire went and ruined drug dealers for us, but what about, like, killer bees? Or biker gangs? Communists were always good for a nemesis, what with their sweat and leather coats and women as beautiful as they were deadly.

Or hey, here we go, what about Nazis? Whatever happened to the Nazis? Now there’s Archenemy Incorporated right there. Can’t we have Law & Order: Nazis? Can’t we have over-wrought psychological thrillers with aging A-list actors as retired cops leaving everything behind to catch Nazis in small town Vermont (it may just become personal)?

I feel like I should write my congressman about this.

And you, get off my lawn.

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Sure it’s a diuretic, but WHAT a diuretic!

Coffee.

Nature’s Red Bull. Daddy’s little brown helper (the only situation in which that phrase is not racist). The Anti-beer – whatever you call it, it is the bitter brown essence of fatherhood.

I mean, I drank it before, but shit, fatherhood makes you appreciate coffee like “The Road” makes you appreciate a tax refund. Not just civilization, but the tangible, donut-buying benefits thereof.

The transition from single man to committed relationship can be a harsh one. It’s like the railroad choo-chooing inexorably through the proverbial wild west. Progress, certainly, but at the cost of a certain wild, dangerous beauty: There are now rules and standards associated with laundry. The existence of Star Wars memorabilia is no longer it’s own justification. You have to buy a calendar.

So you find your corners, the 15 minute chunks of the day when these little emancipations can occur in masturbatory secrecy. Garages and basements become man-caves, game consoles and 22 oz bottles of stupidly alcoholic beer sit waiting hungrily for a girls night out.

Throughout this time, coffee remains present, and useful, but no more than a tool.

And then baby drops. And man-caves become nurseries, or staging areas for baby swag and hand-me-downs after the shower and before craigslist. All the dark, sacred corners of the day are lost to failing battles of hygiene and unreturned correspondence. Girls’ nights out cease utterly, outlets for game consoles are usurped by baby monitors and swings, and absurdly strong beer (and the painful mornings they promise) are no longer sustainable while a tiny, helpless human being will be waking you up every two hours for the next 2-5 years

You stop seeing people. You no longer go out. You stand naked, scratching and bleary at the brilliant dawning of a life of responsibility as a good role model, utterly bereft of all the stupid, wonderful, ultimately damaging things which once defined you.

And it’s fine. We cowboy up. That’s what fathers do. We can’t gestate the kid, or pop him out. We can’t nurse him, we can’t regulate his body temperature (this is true, btw – moms can use skin to skin contact to regulate an infant’s temp – I just dropped science on you, BAM!). So our job is back-up. We’re your mission control, your best boy grip, Flava Flav to your Chuck D (yeah bo-eeeeey!). The mama looks out for the baby, the papa looks out for everybody.

But who takes care of the man? Who’s looking out for papa?

I’ll tell you who: Juan Valdez.

I want to say this again: it’s fine. I’m not complaining here. We go back to work full time, we get up to change diapers and check water & food at the nursing area. We rub feet, we rub shoulders, rub nickels together, and do dishes and laundry and god help you if you have to shovel snow. And it’s fine, it’s how it should be. That’s our role in the situation, and we don’t need all the other stuff we used to have because we have coffee.

Within that steaming, black liquid sanctuary hide the last vestiges of our fruitful genitals. In those bitter, frothy depths linger the Xbox’s of our souls, the man cave we need never surrender to practical useful purpose. Within the soft burble of the percolator echoes our resilient, savage roar, reminding hoofed mammals that they may yet become our prey even if we have to put our little pooper in the baby bjorn and make him hold the spears.

And best of all, it’s never far away. Instead of the days, weeks, months you spent anticipating all your old rituals of masculinity, the most you have to wait for coffee is 8hours, 4 diaper changes, 2 bottles and a short dancing session. It’s practically in your hand, my brother.

Espresso, French press, drip or gas station it doesn’t really matter, it’s yours. And it will never, ever judge you.

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Ennui? Not Me! The 3rd Surprise of Fatherhood

If you’re afraid that being a father means you never get to have fun, you’re right.

That’s not the surprise. But it’s true.

Now, I don’t think I was ever THAT wild before my genetic material started chewing rubber giraffes. Yes, in younger days I’ve done sloppy capoeira on a rooftop or two, gotten into fights with the occasional shrub (they were all asking for it), spent the odd St Patrick’s day on the men’s room floor with a bottle of Jameson and a gallon of orange juice, and I lived in Bangkok for a year, but it’s all relative right? I have yet to become embroiled in a shadowy government conspiracy, I know where all my scars came from, and don’t have any outstanding warrants in countries that extradite to the US (ain’t going back to Sao Tome any time soon, though).

But a new father has to make some adjustments. And by ‘make some adjustments,’ I do, of course mean ‘give up everything that defines you as a modern man.’

Going out? Doing things? Seeing people (adult-type-people)? Adios! I mean, yes, I could be that dad and go out after work and spend the food money on booze, come home blitzed and make my son swear to die for Ireland, and give him all kinds of great material for one-man shows, or tragic memoirs. Or I could just name him Sue and disappear for a few verses. But, strangely, as generous as they can be in the long term, these behavior models aren’t viewed with great favor by responsible society, nor by my baby-mama.

I don’t have the liver for that sort of behavior anyway. I can admit that now.

And you gotta be able to lift the guy, carry him around, etc. Neither parent has the energy to take care of themself and the baby, let alone the other one. Which means the responsible father can’t afford to be convalescent at all. No illnesses, no sprains, no limps, no hitches, no rashes, and you better keep tight hold on every one of them digits.

You can afford to be ugly now, though, since you already got some.

So this means I don’t get to cage fight, or motorcycle joust, or try out any new circus skills I saw on youtube, or basically have antics. And what, I ask you, is Matty without antics?

You have to give it all up. And here’s the surprise – you don’t really miss it.

I mean, yeah, I sometimes wish I could hit a 3pm happy hour, spend the rest of the night playing video games and sleep past 8 the next morning, but I also wish I could be a seductively ambiguous character in Batman who’s sometimes an ally, sometimes an enemy, and always a dinosaur.

When you cease to be a child, you put away childish things. For all the urges towards a faster life, for all the exploits of my friends and workmates, I now find existence without a son to be empty. Like most things that are easier, cheaper and more restful, not being a parent seems hollow and pointless to me now. That’s the surprise. I’ll never suffer existential doubt again, never question why I’m here, or what I’m doing with myself. The answer is pooping all over my lap right now.

Another plus – your good scotch last a lot longer.

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It Takes a Village: the 2nd Surprise

I’ll come clean here, I’ve never had a “real job.” I’ve waited tables, slung booze, meticulously catalogued low-grade porn (production values count, people), and played midnight chauffeur to Mongolian acrobats.

That’s not an innuendo. I have actually driven around Mongolian acrobats in the dead of night.

The closest I’ve ever come was sorting personnel files in a box factory for a week as a temp. I’ll take the Mongolian acrobats, thank you.

But so I’m not qualified to comment on the daily grind of corporate America. But I imagine it’s a lot like high school: same people, same desk, same graffiti in the bathroom, just with less acne and better coffee.

Freelance theater’s not like this. There’s a lot of turnover. Dozens of people change with every gig. Every couple of months it’s a new commute, new hours, new opportunities to mooch food off the front office. It’s not that big of a town, though, so there’s a pool of a few hundred over-educated, underpaid people who stay the same, but the roles do change- bosses become subordinates, interns become managers, high-maintenance-energy-vampires become someone else’s problem…

It’s a social business, is what I’m saying. You never know who’s gonna land you your next gig, and you’re probably gonna work with everybody again at some point, so it pays to be nice.

Cynics like me see most of it as superficial. Not inherently bad, just convenient. Out of 20 people you work with, maybe you’ll hang out with 2 of them when the show closes. Maybe none. Again, not bad in itself, just how it is.

And then we had a kid.

Well, first there was hot action, and then we had a kid.

And I had this 2nd surprise of fatherhood I’ve referred to: the incredible outpouring of excitement and love and support from the people around us. Baby showers, food, books, advice, really really good scotch (aka Daddy’s night-time coffee) I swear this child’s feet have yet to be clothed by anything not handmade.

And most, not all, but by far most of this is from these dirt-broke, fringe-livin, lunatic, ‘professional acquaintances’ of ours. I mean, these are people who come over and just do dishes and leave. People who will hold a shrieking infant for over an hour, and the kid isn’t in any way related to them (and as someone who’d logged a fair amount of hours wrestling 15lbs of diaper covered fury, I can tell you that’s no small thing). One person in particular will be getting a state park, or commemorative fountain, or a ziggurat or some such the next time I’m governor of something (Wyoming 2014? They might just be that desperate).

And beyond even all that, you loopy bastards have no idea what you do for me. Parenting’s hard. Chuck Norris hard. You don’t get real breaks, you don’t get days off, your body hurts and your mind can’t focus, and when things get their lowest I go back and read your comments and messages and emails from August. It helps remind me why I’m doing this.

And did I mention that somebody gave me scotch? Holy Shatners, did that ever make my winter.

There can be no reckoning of this. I’ll give Russia an uncorrupted government before I could begin to repay the kindness that has been shown us, the gifts of time and service. I have been humbled, brought to tears, by this outpouring of love and support so simply and freely given. And there’s very little that can bring me to tears outside of “Dog the Bounty Hunter.” (it’s about redemption, bra).

I don’t know what I was expecting, but it wasn’t all that.

So, thanks. A long-winded way of saying thanks.

For more long-winded ways of saying simple things, consult your local legislation

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An Brief Intro: The 3 Surprises of Fatherhood

Recently, a friend of mine asked my thoughts on being a father. First of all, that may actually have been the first time anyone has actively solicited my opinion (frequently offered, so rarely asked for). I bought a donut in celebration. And then I bought a donut just so I could eat 2 donuts.

Secondly, as I thought about being a father, I discovered I have thoughts about being a father. All my papa peeps know what I’m talking about here; thinking about things is for that misty time before the kid dropped, or in the car on the way to the pediatrician appointment, or in those fraught seconds when you try to remember why exactly you’re in the bedroom with a bottle of bleach and a bowl of spaghetti.

Yeah, turns out I have thoughts aplenty. And I thought I would share some of these aforementioned thoughts with yall.

One of the questions he asked me was “what surprised you?” And my first, snide response was “Shit, ninja, how much time we got here? Lord help the rainforests you ever wanna print this out.” Seriously, if rude awakenings count as surprises, the first week after birth is the equivalent of waking up strapped with dynamite in a cold shower that’s somehow 1,000 miles up in freefall at night when suddenly you discover that you’re actually a horse.

But that probably wouldn’t have been helpful.

So I tried to think past all the ground covered by “3 Men and a Baby” and any given sitcom (all those jokes, by the way, they’re all true), think past the meconium and the realization of how stunningly little sleep you can function on, and give my friend some actual insights. And I came up with 3 things.

The first surprise occurred almost a month after the fact – how quickly and completely you become a parent. Yes, in theory, you get 9 months to see it coming, but you get your whole life to know you’re going to die and yet it still catches you off guard.

Not that I’m comparing parenthood to death. Good lord, no. Please don’t tell the mama I wrote that.

But really, one day you’re two people who are going to have a kid, and then the next day you’re parents. And all the reading and classes might just as well have been about tae-bo and Mexican cooking when that first bit of baby touches air. But you don’t have time or space to think about anything except what the baby needs RIGHT NOW. You spend weeks (if not months) putting out fires and then when you can finally straighten your back and walk slowly again you realize you’re a parent. A seasoned veteran. Like going to bed in Minneapolis and waking up in Buenos Aires being able to speak fluent Spanish and knowing which street vendor has the best bananas on Mondays in summer.

The other two surprises will be a surprise. Sometime when I’ve had more sleep.

Signing off.

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