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My son attended his first Major League Baseball game when he was only a few months old. Rather I — not one to allow the arrival of a newborn to hinder my regular attendance at AT&T park — spent the better part of 2 seasons outfitted like a marsupial; a baby strapped to my chest and half a day’s worth of infant-rearing supplies on my back. He was remarkably accommodating — as were my friends and neighbors in Section VB318. He was reasonably cute, didn’t make much of a fuss, and it was quickly discovered that he could be used to smuggle contraband into the ballpark since security never seemed to want to closely inspect the diaper bag.
By the age of 2, he had become something of a celebrity based on his ability to recite the Giants’ 25 man roster — when prompted with a player’s first name, he could respond with the appropriate last name and his position on the field. He could also polish off 2–3 hot dogs and a bag of Cracker Jack by the seventh-inning stretch. By age five, he had accompanied me on 4 annual pilgrimages to Scottsdale, AZ for Spring Training and knew by memory the routes to baggage claim at Phoenix Sky Harbor, the pancake machine at the Holiday Inn, and of course the stadium on the corner of Osborn and Drinkwater Blvd. As a father, I gushed with pride at his apparently inherited ability to memorize inane details and moreover his dedication to topics that meant so much to me. Later, as he came of Little League age and struggled with the notion that he might have to wear the insignia of another team, I assured him that it was all a part of the game, and even if he had the misfortune to be stricken with Dodger blue, we would find a way to get through it.
When he was around 3, my son discovered Thomas the Tank Engine. I knew via the experience of peers that I could not hope to counter or altogether prevent what might easily become a full-blown obsession — but I did my best to keep it in check with careful application of Pixar movies, skate videos, and reruns of Travis Pastrana’s Nitro Circus. Thankfully his emotional investment in Thomas didn’t reach the level of curtains and sheets, but he did insist upon watching episodes of the show on loop, which could have been perfectly tolerable for the peace that ensued on any given weekend morning — were it not for that damn song. Even as I write this, I can feel my left eyelid beginning to twitch at the memory. I had taken great pains in his infancy to ensure he (rather I) would not become accustomed to “kid songs”. In my mind, there was no sense in letting a toddler rule the radio, and if one desired a child-friendly format, one need look no further than the likes of Bob Marley, Weezer, or the Clash. In the end, I reached compromise in the form of a carefully manicured playlist of music videos which, when applied immediately after the obligatory Thomas, enabled a shared love of reasonably similar music that continues to this day.
Shortly after his arrival, I made a number of promises and affirmations both to myself and to him. I swore I would not become an overbearing parent; that he would never suffer the slings and arrows of the “tiger mom” or the “little league dad”. I would not needlessly press my will upon him, thus stifling his individuality or his creativity. I would provide him with all the needs and guidance necessary to go forth and make his own way in the world. Then I spiked his hair up in a little mohawk and took a picture.
As he continued to grow into the little dude he is today, I became increasingly aware of the fact that he behaved exactly like me. He mimicked my likes and interests, grew passionate over the same issues, and became distressed under the same stimuli. Had I made good on the promises I offered? Or had I, after all, succumbed to the narcissistic practice of reliving my childhood vicariously through his? I had named him after my favorite comic book character*. I read him bedtime stories out of Calvin and Hobbes. The guitar, the skateboard, the bike — all were my toys as much as they were his. Perhaps it was inevitable, given the environment I had prepared, that he would wind up not so much an individual, but a proverbial clone. Or perhaps I should cut myself some slack, and accept credit for raising a happy and healthy kid in the absolute best way that I knew how.
As a father, I gushed with pride at his apparently inherited ability to memorize inane details and moreover his dedication to topics that meant so much to me.
Last year, my son and I went to Disneyland; the natural habitat for a child and a father who frequently acts like one. While queued up for one of our favorite rides, we were joined in the line by a striking couple sporting abundant body mods and their 3 normal-looking boys. I have a particular affection for heavily tattooed parents — partly because I am one — but also because I wonder if they’ve walked similar paths while flirting with rebellion, made similar life decisions both wise and otherwise, and had similar frank discussions with their own mothers about said decisions. Most of all, I like to think we can share in our amusement at the incongruity of parenthood and how the hell we got here. So it came to be that I spent the better part of an hour in the line for Pirates of the Caribbean with Jacoby Shaddix, frontman of Northern CA alt-metal group Papa Roach, and his family. By the time I had subtly confirmed my suspicion by googling the band on my phone, he and his middle son had already queried my kid as to which rides we’d ticked off so far, and which we rated highest. Soon all 4 youngsters were engaged in a spirited discussion regarding the merits of each installment in the Star Wars franchise, while Jacoby, his wife Kelly, and I shared a refreshingly philosophical, and at times frank, conversation about life, family, music, and the sobering reality that is adulthood. He described how a decline in the overall popularity of their brand of music in the US had required the band to adapt, mature, and actively court devotees in Europe, South America, and Asia. The effort had strained their relationships, both internal and external, but he maintained that the exercise had caused he and his bandmates to re-evaluate the importance of close ties and family — Kelly, his partner of more than 20 years, affirmed this with an emphatic nod. We laughed at the irony that a man who once made his career writing anthems of teenage angst was now raising one of his own — his oldest was about to celebrate his fourteenth birthday.
I related my own struggle with the notion of parenthood, admitting that I lacked confidence in my own vision of myself as a mere adult, much less one person ultimately responsible for another. At this he grinned, and gesturing to our miniature entourage, said, “We are who we are, man! And the best part is getting to share it with these guys…we just gotta show them everything we love, and let them decide whether to take it or leave it.” He turned to mine, and said, “Remy, you got a favorite band, man?” And my son — made in my own image — exclaimed without a moment’s hesitation, “Green Day!!”
That’s my boy.
*His name is “Remy”, not Gambit…because that would be weird.
RZ Cole is a wearer of many hats: divorced dad, significant other, veteran, chef, music-lover, jock, nerd.