Monthly Archives: July 2013

And Maybe Monkeys Will Fly Out Of My Butt

I’m currently reading a book called “The Last Six Million Seconds” by John Burdett. It’s a thriller about a triple murder investigation in Hong Kong months before it’s passed from British control to Chinese. It’s got your murder mystery angle, your organized crime angle, your diplomatic suspense angle, and so much more – it’s a veritable dodecahedron of genre. It’s full of shadowy intrigue and subtle manipulation, and it’s especially enjoyable when you’re dancing to the strings of a mostly verbal 3 year old.

I’d read about a conversation where one character guides the other, disarming them with blunt honesty, lulling them into trust with neutral topics then playing on latent racism and graphic images to win them over fully. Then I’d put the book down when my toddler pointed and yelled.

It’s refreshing actually, when you walk through the world coerced and seduced in a million ways to deal regularly with someone who hasn’t figured out how to lie. The tactics of persuasion historically favored by my little man are 1- to say he’d like it, whatever he wants (we call this asking). 2- to claim that it’s his, not yours. Or 3…well, really there’s just the two.

But now we’ve entered a new stage in our interpersonal interactions. We have recently introduced the word “Maybe.” Before, we’d do this, or do that, and sometimes we’d fight about it, and sometimes plans would change, but now, with this new word in the arsenal, actual negotiations begin.

We need to run some errands. But…maybe we can go swimming?

We need to get your hair cut. But….maybe we should watch videos?

The thing is, he’s not even saying it’s likely, just that it’s possible. Which, when you’ve read enough about quantum physics and Buddhism your view of physical reality is tenuous enough to allow for the existence of a freight train in the bathroom. The probability is a little on the low side, but then again, Snooki.

It’s yet another bittersweet benchmark for a father; here’s another word he understands, that he can use. A word that demonstrates the comprehension that something can exist in a conditional state, outside of what this little person directly observes. It ties in memory, abstract thinking, and continuing mastery of spoken language. And it brings him that much closer to being able to play you like a fiddle.

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Stick To The Mission

This is my second stab at this post.

When I was 17, I had never lived outside of Iowa. I had no real idea that the job I have now existed. I spoke only English, couldn’t type for shit, I’d never been, nor could I have predicted at the time that I would someday be lost in Paris, destitute in Istanbul or heartbroken in Bangkok.

When my son is 17, it will be 2027, everyone will have hoverphones and robot dinosaurs for secretaries, and there’ll be Vulcans and Klingons all up in our junk. Morgan Freeman will no doubt be President.

When Trayvon Martin was 17 he was shot and killed for being a black kid in a hoodie.

I’ve thought a lot about what to write this week. Whether I should write anything about the Martin/Zimmerman “trial” that wrapped up last Saturday. There’s not much I can say here about the justice system, or the law, or the grotesque delusion that race had no part in this. The outrage, the embarrassment – that’s all being covered by people more qualified to speak on this than I.

I’m just a dad.

Parents are guilt factories. Every prick of outrageous fortune that befalls your child is, one way or another, your fault. This is a subjective fact. Unless your child is less than 2, in which case it is an objective fact.

I look at this tragedy and think, if this was my child what could I have done? Is there something I could have said to keep Trayvon home that night? To cause him to act in that situation differently, in a way that wouldn’t have resulted in his death? What about Zimmerman? What could I have done as his father to keep him from growing into a small-minded, fearful man? That could have kept him from following and murdering a boy out of his own sense of inadequacy?

For Trayvon, I can’t even begin to think of advice I might give. I’m white, after all. Painfully white. Iowan Irish White. I’ll never understand the forces that daily shaped him into who he was. This article gave me some limited insight, and inspired me to write the post.

For Zimmerman? Who knows?

The only thing that comes to mind is a method for moving through a world of potential confrontations that I’ve discovered and try to practice myself. I wish I could remember where I heard this originally, but I associate it with martial arts training.

The method is simply this: “Stick to the mission.”

Your mission, every time you leave your home, is to return home safely. That’s it. Just get back home.

It may seem simple. It may seem stupid. That’s because it is. But if you, like me, are bound up in the rules of masculinity, if you’ve watched enough Chuck Norris movies, and have trained in some sort of fighting style, this can be a very hard rule to follow in the moment.

When it’s late, when you’re alone, when you can’t tell if the guy is a harmless drunk or if his cursing at you will escalate. When you’ve got two guys bearing down on you over a disagreement at an intersection. In the moment you’re checking out how they wear their weight, if they favor a side, gauging their reach, your heart’s pounding, you know how fast you are with this kind of adrenaline. You know that whatever the guy’s on, once he shows you how he punches it becomes a question of joint breaks and temple strikes.

I’ve written a little bit about masculinity. It traps you, in instances like this. Everything you’ve been taught about manhood from John Wayne to Jon Hamm demands violence in this situation, and since you’re the one filming it in your own head, you are destined to be the glorious victor. And then the credits roll and you get the girl. Not necessarily in that order.

The thing the Karate Kid never taught you is that there are consequences to victory. Is your opponent really alone? Do they have any information on you that would let them sue you? Press charges? Do they know where you work, where you live?

And violence escalates. Maybe Zimmerman’s head was filled with the hoodie-d villain surrendering. Maybe he “just wanted to scare him” or “teach him a lesson.” The flaw in this mindset is your adversary doesn’t know how far you’re going to go. And they would be foolish to not assume the worst. An argument turns into a fist fight, somebody pulls a knife, somebody pulls a gun, somebody has a crew with them and it becomes a riot over some stupid barroom slight. Over nothing.

People are killed over nothing.

My son, my precious only son. My sweet, caring, wonderful unique child, they will kill you for nothing. They will kill you for nothing.

Stick to the mission.

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You Know Maclaren’s Got the Volo with Nautical Stripes Now, Right?

It’s not that I hate sports, sports are fine.

Many people I love and respect are sport-ball fans of varying degrees, but for me, I just can’t bring myself to care. And I’ve tried, really.

I remember as a kid collecting baseball and football cards, and as a younger man I would half-heartedly seek out sports pages or radio spots – neither for any sort of enjoyment on my part, but just so I could talk to my classmates/coworkers about it.

I’ve tried to care, and yet…meh.

Listening to sportball fans amongst themselves, with the stats and the trades and the felonies and the massive massive paychecks (those last two are able to hold my attention, as it happens) must be like someone without kids listening to a bunch of dads talk. Except instead of playoffs or rankings, it’s more about managing the timing and locations of poop.

I know, it’s hard for the uninitiated to understand, but this stuff is fascinating to the average new papa. Cloth or disposable, nap schedules, the solid food spectrum and its effects on digestion – get any 2 dads together and it’s like watching Terry Bradshaw gabble on with other well dressed neck-less men on the half time show. And when you think of all the accessories, all the gear a new papa has to juggle; high chairs, baby carriers, car seats, it does make one question the absence of an Xzibit-hosted “Pimp My Stroller” on one of those channels that show stuff.

They have a show about bearded men making duck decoys. Where’s my stroller show, Learning Channel? If that is your real name.

But as deep as a papa goes on what should be both personal and disgusting, we’re bush league amateurs compared to a new mom. I’ve seen women meet for the first time at the daycare and inside of two minutes they’re discussing topics to make the raunchiest proctologist giggle and blush.

Part of that is the radical intimacy of parenthood. Words like “personal” and “private” pretty much lose all relevance in that first week. And dialing it back for the general public requires studious practice that none of us really have the energy for right now.

The other thing is that this is our lives. Dealing with these topics/items/bodily functions define our existence during this time of our lives. We measure seconds and years by this junk.

So if you’re one of those wealthy, rested people who don’t have kids, and you find yourself caught in a crossfire of bumbo vs bouncy chair, judge us not too harshly. If you smile politely and wait I guarantee you won’t have long before we either rush off to save toddlers from themselves or just nod off.

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Adapt and Overcome

It’s good to have a plan.

It’s what separates us from the animals, after all. That and Skymall.

This morning, for example, we had a plan. We planned to pack a bag and send the little man out with his grandma and grandpa while we stayed home and breathed.

This, of course, didn’t happen. Through whining, flopping, and negotiation he managed to extract from us a plate of cantaloupe, no baths for two days, and a moped. And he stayed home.

But we had a plan, dammit. But we had a plan.

Little man, historically, has not been much into plans. Pretty much from the outset.

I won’t go into procedure-specific detail, but we’d initially had a plan (there it is again, the plan) involving a midwife and a home birth, and we ended up in the hospital with a c-section.

And thus, precedent was set.

If you bring swimsuits and a towel to the lake, he only wants to play on the swings.

Take him on the train at the zoo (zoos and trains are his two great loves), and he whines to go home.

Gird yourself for that special sort of hell of a toddler on a plane and he sleeps through the flight.

It’s good to have a plan. It’s better to have several, and enough diapers.

Hoo-ah.

 

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Bring the Weird

I was at a big theater party a couple years ago for the closing night of the Minnesota Fringe Festival (the largest non-juried festival in North America – 160 shows, 13 Stages, 10 days. It’s boss).

Anyway, I was at the closing party, which was as wild as one might imagine, when I noticed across the room there was this guy. He was bigger, bearded, wearing a leather fringe vest and a top hat and lots of shoulder hair. In his left hand was a drink, and on his right hand was a weasel puppet.

The guy wasn’t doing much, but that weasel was clearly scoping out the room for who knows what purpose.

Now I had absolutely no desire to suffer the conversational nut punch of actually interacting with neither man nor weasel, but dammit, I was glad they were there.

Because somebody has to bring the weird.

I’d shouldered this burden valiantly for the first 18 years of my life, and I still know how to throw down. I was a weird kid. I was the weird kid.

Granted I grew up in small-town Iowa, so it didn’t take much. A lack of interest in professional sports alone put me well on the way to social ostracism.

In a world of New Kids on various blocks, in a time when Achy Breaky Heart wasn’t yet a punchline (well, okay, it was a punchline then, too) I was discovering Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart. When the Fresh Prince of Bel Air hadn’t yet become a method of trolling, I was reveling in Ren & Stimpy and old Bullwinkle cartoons. While my peers we’re discovering alcohol and sex I was discovering kung fu movies and live action role playing.

The reason I bring all this up is that I’ve been watching my son, and lately I can see the signs. My boy’s gonna be a weird kid, too. Sure, he’ll watch Curious George, and Thomas the Tank Engine, and sundry other mass market drivel, but the shows he mimics are Pocoyo and Peppa Pig; British cartoons closer to Charlie Chaplain than Dora.

Yes, he likes “Wheels on the Bus” and “This Old Man,” but he also requests Jonathon Coulton and They Might Be Giants. Plus, at almost-three, he’s doing character voices.

A father knows.

And any nerd will tell you, being weird doesn’t make High School any easier. But though a leisurely HS tenure may be a parenting goal for some, I, personally, could give a Gamorrean’s used fur breech-cloth about it.

I want my son to be passionate and curious, I want him to think deeply, to feel free to explore, and to carry the sense of wonder he has now throughout his life. In short, I want him to be weird.

Humanity is advanced by the unique, not the normal. Just ask Magneto. But honestly, I don’t really care if he advances humanity or uses his power for evil, I just want to be able to talk to him in 14 years and not be bored.

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You Can’t Spell ‘Misanthropy’ Without ‘Yo, Ham!’

There are all kinds of great reasons for not writing much lately. Work’s been busy, we lost power for a few days, then we went out of town. Somebody invented the “cronut.” There was bacon in the fridge. I have a toddler.

It’s all bulls!*#t, of course.

Not the part about having a kid, though. That’s true. It’s all true (except the bacon. I wish I had bacon in the fridge). But it’s all still bulls!*#t.

Writing is a lot like sit-ups, I really only feel good about doing it after I’ve done it.

It’d be alright if it was at least consistent, but sometimes I barely have to think about it. Sometimes I’m like Batman against so many unnamed goons – I just start flinging batarangs and when I next look at my watch, Gotham is safe once again.

And it’s not like I have a shortage of material. It’s not writer’s block. Not really. Not so much as it is that when I’m confronted with a choice between sitting down to write and, say, staring silently at my perfectly shaped ankles, it’s my ankles that are always winning out.

I’m finding that one of the hardest things about writing is writing.

In a way, it’s like parenting as well. In the first few months, there’s no choice – if you carve out any time you have to spend it sleeping or eating or else you’ll collapse. Eventually the pressure lets up, but the tendency to chose basic needs over anything else stays fixed in habit. Lamentations flow about lost social lives and stain-free clothing but as babies grow a little and you have the mental space to become more aware of your failures of hygiene and smalltalk, you still feel powerless to stop it.

Which, as I’ve said before, is bulls!*#t.

Effort must be made. One clean shirt, one returned email, failure by failure you have to claw your way back until some reasonable imitation of normalcy is achieved.

So also with writing. Take this post, for example. It sucks. It’s vapid, reaching, and shallow and it still took me two days from the first line till this one. But I’ve missed too many deadlines, and rail against it though I may, I won’t have written something unless I write something.

Effort must be made. And now I have a post. And my shirt is stain free.

It’s dusty. But that’ll brush off

Thanks for reading. I’m only bothering to post this because I’m posting two more this week to make up, somewhat, for my recent delinquency.

Happy Fourth of July, too. If you’re into that sort of thing.

If you’re not…man, don’t you just hate people? They’re all outside my window right now being dumb. All of them. All the people. Dumb.

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