We all do stupid things during the first few weeks of parenthood. “Dad Brain” is real. Some new fathers reply all on a company-wide email or wear mismatched socks. I went on national television and starred in the most cringe-inducing game show clip of all-time.
If you’ve been on the internet this week, you might have been one of the 2.5 million people to see this:
That’s me. I wish it wasn’t. I wish I was one of the now 2,500,001 million people who watched this and saw a man making a fool of himself. But I’m not. I’m the guy in the clip and I’m embarrassed.
My mortification is a shame not only because I’m carrying regret around like a weight, but because this is fifteen seconds of internet perfection. You can watch it like a comedy sketch. A white dude sits across from SNL alum Tim Meadows looks deep into his eyes, scans a gameshow category that reads, “People Whose Last Name Is Obama,” takes a deep breath and confidently says, “Bin Laden.”
I filmed this $100,000 Pyramid episode two weeks after my son was born. On two hours of sleep. None of that excuses anything. I bring it up only to say that I’m both mortified and happy. I love my son and I’m still in the heady early days of parenthood. I’m preoccupied with my online infamy, but also with his sleep schedule. I’m looking forward to seeing him tonight. I’m looking forward to snuggling. I’m looking forward to teaching him that people are not solely defined by their mistakes — a discussion we’ll have a few years down the road.
My viral moment has played out as you might imagine. I’ve spent a few days refreshing feeds and turning down interview requests. My family has rallied around me. My friends have roasted me. They believe this will pass. The internet moves quickly. I’m the idiot racist du jour, but tomorrow is another day.
But this week I have not just been thinking about myself. I have been thinking about my son. One day he will ask me about the above video. Maybe he’ll have googled my name, or a friend from class will send him a hologram version of the clip on whatever social media app is dominating their lives.
And I will tell him the truth. I am human and made a mistake. I said something borderline racist or Islamophobic that was disrespectful to a President I voted for and respect. What I’d like my son to see is that I owned it. I didn’t dissemble or avoid the topic. I apologized and I tried to laugh at jokes made at my expense. I will move on when other people are ready to let me. The timing on that isn’t my call.
What I won’t do is stop taking risks or putting myself out there. I don’t want that to be the takeaway from this unfortunate experience or the moral my pre-pubescent son internalizes when he learns to google his dad.
The shocking thing is that when my son does google me, he’ll see that the internet response to my idiocy was actually incredibly generous. People have seen me as a human being. Chrissy Teigen, Michael Strahan, Questlove, and Patton Oswalt have tweeted support. It’s nice. Is this how I wanted to meet my heroes? Absolutely not, but sometimes you don’t get what you want. And you never get to provide the context you’d hope people might infer.
The infamous clip does not show me regaining my composure only to lose on the category “Margarita.” It does not show Tim Meadows and me on the darkened stage after the show, him telling me that coincidentally Margarita is his grandmother’s name. It doesn’t show Kathy Najimi scrupulously avoiding making eye contact with me or Michael Strahan graciously glossing over my flub. It doesn’t show me apologizing to my wife, or cuddling my son.
Rory, believe me when I tell you that those things happened too. Good and bad. And the worst thing that happened to me in 2018 was televised. The best thing that happened to me in 2018 was you. And if anyone ever asks you whether you want to go on a game show, do it. I regret my gaff, but I don’t regret saying yes to an experience.