I’m fortunate enough to call myself Father to two kids.
I’m sure at times, they’ve had other words to call me, and probably well deserved. I did hope for fatherhood perfection, but I don’t think I came close to the mark. I wanted to be the ideal father. I knew the Cleaver family wasn’t going to happen, but maybe something leaning a bit more in that direction.
For me, having kids was the most amazing and maybe the only remarkable thing I’ve done in my life. I’m totally proud of my kids. It’s not for everyone.
If you are self-absorbed, spoiled, entitled, hedonistic, childish and basically lazy, don’t have a kid. It won’t turn out well.
OK. First, NOBODY ever had a perfect childhood. Anyone who tells you they did is totally full of shit. They’re hiding something worse than my bumbling ineptitude. The only way you learn parenting skills is by raising kids, and by the time you think you think have it all figured out, the little peckerheads have flown the nest. Just as that screen door is about to slam, you yell out, “Oh, wow, now I understand!”
When it’s time to take wing, they’re coming out of something, possibly psychologically, comparable to a chemically induced coma. They’re kind of staring at the sun, waiting for their eyes to adjust and just thinking—what the hell do I do now?
I think we all have wanted to have do-overs. One that comes to mind is messing with my daughter’s first boyfriend. She was 15 and he was a 17-year-old total horn dog. He was waiting for her to come downstairs, so I took advantage of the situation. I thought I was being funny. I ran out and put on boxer shorts and grabbed the biggest chef knife I had and a hone and I parked myself on a couch. I invited him to sit next to me. He didn’t really want to sit down, but I kind of insisted. He sat down, and I very slowly and deliberately sharpened that knife. “So, where are you two going?”
You have to understand that he had been looking at her like a delicious snack for quite some time and it was pissing me off. Your babies are your babies, and he’s thinking I’m not catching it. Predictably, she did notice my sitting there when she came downstairs and was horrified. She was very upset with me. The poor guy ran like a scalded dog.
He started hanging out at the house shortly thereafter—as a “friend.” As I got to know him, I realized I may have acted prematurely and rashly. He ended up being a hoot. He had a really twisted sense of humor. He drove a jacked-up truck, and when he would come upon possums, coons, and armadillos smashed on the road, he would take the shovel out of his truck and throw them in back. He would then sun-dry them, and the next time a friend’s birthday came up, they would get one wrapped with a ribbon. I re-named him Road Kill.
He bolted for a while. He was a good kid and a known quantity. And, things probably occurred in her life that would have worried me more than Road kill. … She’s now 21.
Another defining “Father of the Year” incident occurred while she was visiting me in Costa Rica. She was 19 at the time, and while not being sheltered in her upbringing, she was still relatively conservative. We had this wonderful family staying with us at the Lodge from Portland. The daughter, Mindy is a brilliant pastry chef.
She made an incredible Chocolate Torte for dessert the night before. Lauren is a freak for chocolate, as am I. I was at the beach waiting for a fishing boat to offload for that night’s dinner when Lauren called me and asked if there was any of the dessert left. I told her I thought we had finished it but to look in the fridge.
I ran the rest of my errands and stopped at Tortilla Flats for a cold beer before going back up the mountain. Mid-beer I get a call from one of the guests. He said I need to get up there and that something is wrong with Lauren. He put her on the phone, and she tells me she can’t feel her arms or face.
I went into a panic and hauled ass up the mountain. I got there and she was a mess. I was literally 2 minutes from calling a helicopter to the Lodge to get her to San José to a hospital—normally a 3 ½ hour drive.
I said, “Lauren, take a deep breath. I want to know everything you’ve done today. Have you handled any frogs or toads? Could you have been bitten by a bug or a spider, or a snake? What did you eat and drink?”
She worked through all of the possibilities and when we got to food, she said all she had had so far were the brownies. Now I’m kind of scratching my head.
OK, back up the banana boat. Two months earlier, I had a couple of lovely sisters as guests at the Lodge who owned a big charter yacht further north. As a parting gift, they left me a bag of brownies (wink-wink). I ate a quarter of one and went to Disney World without leaving the mountain. I put them in the small fridge in the kitchen bodega and promptly forgot they were there. I thought Lauren was going through the big commercial fridge outside.
Uh-oh. I asked how many she ate and she said the whole bag—maybe 8 of them. I told her that the good news was she wasn’t going to die. I called a doctor friend of mine and a “stoner” friend of mine, famous for her edibles. They both told me she would be fine in 24 hours. She slept almost all of the time except to wake up and giggle every now and then. When the effects wore off she was not pleased. We can laugh about it now, but at the time I felt like digging a hole and crawling in.
With Charlie, we have that father-son dynamic going for sure. I sometimes think he doesn’t know his ass from a hole in the ground, and he sometimes thinks I’m a moron. Boys and dads tend to do a one-upmanship thing. The son can’t admit that he has learned anything he didn’t already know, and the father can’t let that go. We agree on everything as long as we don’t talk.
My moment of clarity with Charlie was when he was maybe 2 ½ years old. Now he’s always been a bullheaded little cuss ( of course from his mother’s genes). We were living in the village on the north end of Longboat Key. I was alone with him while his mother was at work in the evening. It was bath time. He didn’t want a bath. I wanted him to bathe. It turned into World War III as I stuffed his little ass into the tub. He was having a really really serious tantrum. For me, it was a matter of principle and discipline and dominance.
Looking back, today, I would have said “Hey buddy, let’s take a bath later. No big deal.” At that time I was working 2 jobs to keep the wolf away, and I was just plain tired. One evening, while he was in the bath, the phone rang in the next room. I answered it and had a 30-second conversation. Then, I carried the phone into the bathroom, and, NO CHARLIE!! I ran out of the bathroom and found the front door ajar. I burst through the door. Some tourists were walking on the sidewalk. I was shouting “Naked kid!! Naked kid!! WHERE???” They pointed in a westerly direction, and I took off. I see his little white ass shining like a beacon. He’d ran across 2 cross lanes. Not a busy place, but that could have been disastrous. He was screaming like a banshee, completely and totally pissed off. He had totally worked himself into a tizzy.
I caught up to him and scooped him up. I was scared to death. At that moment I smacked his little ass and told him to never, ever do that to me again. I’ll never forget the look on his face … I’ve been carrying that one around for almost 22 years.
As we were walking back to the house, the tourists stood there gawking. I asked them if possibly they might have considered that this was not a normal situation, and if detaining the naked child running down the street might have been prudent. OK, maybe I wasn’t that nice, but they had that deer in the headlights look.
So, what I’m trying to learn:
- When to keep my fuckin’ mouth shut. I don’t know everything. I just think I do.
- I need to realize that my kids already have the equipment they will use as a base operating system. Done deal. Acquired earlier in life.
- Unless I see something that is immediately threatening to my kids, like a falling meteor or a gun or something, step back, and let them deal. They have the skills.
- Kids take things very seriously when they come from your mouth, Mom and Dad. It doesn’t matter if you are kidding or if you are serious and maybe a tad emotionally overboard—they are not going to forget that shit. Their lives are hinged on our every word–in some ways way later than we think. That’s one thing I didn’t realize—they don’t understand humor, nuance, sarcasm, irony, etc. Who knew? They take our words literally.
Mine are 21 and 24. I just moved back to the States about 6 months ago, after being out of the country for 3 years. I’m not here forever, but I’m treasuring the time I have with them. We’re really still kind of defining our relationships. I try to share experiences with these guys in order to shorten their learning curve of life. They look at me like I’m plankton when I try to explain things.
Then, I remember how I reacted to my own Dad trying to help me with his experiences and I get it.
I love them more than life itself.