I’m a Single Dad Relying on Fast Food. Ronald McDonald Is My Nemesis.

There is no greater sorrow than your child's first words being "happy meal."

by Mark Shatz
Originally Published: 

Like many single fathers, I felt fast food shame. There would be days, with back-to-back events, when my son and I didn’t have time to eat real food. And the shame stared at me – the pile of fast food bags, nuggets containers, and soda cups on the passenger seat floor.

It was often a Saturday, also known as Extracurricular Hell Day. It began with a guitar lesson. Then, soccer. After the game, we drove to a different pitch to watch friends play. Eventually, we rushed to the matinee showing of the latest Marvel movie. In the car, out of the car, repeat. Left the house at 9 a.m. and returned mid-evening. No time for healthy food.

I should-ed on myself. I felt that I should have anticipated the time crunch and I should have prepared food. What was the point of a Ph.D. in psychology if I couldn’t manage the time and dietary needs of a kid? I was the worst.

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As a psychologist, I know self-directed anger is unhealthy, and I needed to project my disapproval onto something, someone. I certainly didn’t deserve the blame for being a nutritionally incompetent dad.

During my parenting career, I have raged at many things. I prayed for a premature death for Barney. I wanted The Wiggles to choke on their fruit salad. I wished Dora got lost and stayed lost. I realized my anger issues were unhealthy, pathological, and just plain sad. With one exception.

In my parental hall of rage, one person towered above all others. He took my money, time, and gave back almost nothing. And I know I’m not alone. Be honest, brutally honest, and woman up. Admit it.

You also hate Ronald McDonald.

If you gathered up all the Nobel Prize winners and asked them to design the most annoying marketing figure for dads, what would it look like? How about a 6-foot-tall, anorexic-like, overly made-up, red-nosed spokesperson?

Ronald ain’t just a spokesperson. He’s a clown. A talking clown. A talking clown who drives a Smart car. A talking clown who drives a Smart car to stalk kids. No wonder my profession treats coulrophobia.

I don’t fear clowns. As a kid, I loved a clown: Bozo the Clown. He had a grand prize game, handed out gifts, and gave great big, long hugs. In hindsight, he was probably a Class 1 felon, but at least he was a gift-giving one. So, I have no animosity toward circus employees. Except for Ronald McDonald.

The blame finger was first uncurled at Mr. McDonald when my son’s first two-word utterance was “happy meal.” There was nothing cheerful about that developmental milestone.

My antipathy festered in a recurring dream. I see Ronnie hanging out at my kid’s playground. I scream at him, and he runs to his car. Run might be overstated for someone who wears a size 37 clown shoe. It was more of a waddle.

Anyway, we hop in our vehicles and begin a moderate-speed chase – Odyssey pursuing Smart car. I use the minivan’s size advantage to tip over McDonald’s car. As he scrambles out of the car, I rush over and tackle his ruffled butt to the ground. I grab the freak by his painted neck and spastically shake him until my money falls out of his suit.

Eventually, I wake up from my dream and return to single fatherhood reality. The conjoined money, time, and emotional blackholes of raising a kid meant I didn’t have a choice. Parenting means fast food.

Mark Shatz is a single-dad, psychologist, and author of Comedy Writing Secrets (3rd ed). His favorite pastime is watching his teenage son outsmart “proven” parenting techniques.

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