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Full disclosure: I have been peeing on the roof deck of my apartment lately.
That sounds really Soviet-era mental patient, but wait. I have an excuse. We’re renovating our second bathroom and Lev is sleeping in the room with the remaining bathroom so after he goes to sleep I have to go out on the roof deck. Not being a barbarian, of course, I don’t pee off the roof onto people, nor do I pee onto the deck. Michelle has some very large plantings — she grows basil and mint and tomatoes in the summer. I water the basil.
I make this embarrassing confession because as a father, it reminds me of when I was a toddler, and my family spent our summers at an old farmhouse in the Catskill Mountains. Every year, once school ended in June, my parents would pack us into the station wagon — an Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser with fake wood paneling on the outside — for a 2-hour drive to Greenville, NY, and we would spend all of July and August there at what we call “the farm.”
It was indeed once a dairy farm, and to make it more farm-like, my father would get us animals each summer: a horse, a goat, some ducks, chickens, and once, a monkey.
We named the monkey Chee-Chee, and insisted we keep him after the summer vacation ended in September, when all the other animals were sold back to the animal auction where my father had bought them in June. But soon we had to get rid of Chee-Chee because he liked to fling his poo out of his cage, and he bit people, and he was insane, and also keeping a monkey in the suburbs is illegal.
Lev’s parent preference is clear: he likes his mom more than his dad.
Anyway, peeing on my roof deck reminded me of a long buried memory: one summer day, I was peeing outside the main door of the farmhouse and my mother came out and said, “Why the f–k are you peeing on my flowers, you f–k?”
I was only 4 years-old and my father said, “Oh, Etta, leave him alone, it’s just pee. He’s watering your flowers.”
“His pee is full of ammonia and it’s killing my f—ing flowers,” my mom said, picking up a dead raccoon and hurling it at my father, who ducked like George Bush during the shoe-throwing incident.
I looked around and the yard was strewn with dead raccoon carcasses — my father had been up all night with a .22 shooting raccoons, which had been killing our chickens. In the morning, we would fill a wheelbarrow with dead raccoons and walk it down the long gravel driveway and dump them in a ravine. It was a glorious, all-American childhood.
The point is, my parents were playing good cop/bad cop with me. At that stage, my father was taking the role of the permissive one, while my mother was on the warpath.
I knew they were both bat-shit crazy — I mean, who buys their 4-year-old kid a monkey? — but my dad was making his brand of crazy seem like the fun kind (staying up all night and shooting raccoons from his bedroom window) whereas my mom’s fixation on me peeing on her flowers struck my 4-year-old mind as a buzz kill.
Now that Michelle and I are parents, the same issues arise. For example, Lev is going through a phase where he likes Michelle better than me. Nothing personal, it’s just a fact. When he wakes up and sees me, he cries and then he runs to her and motorboats her boobies.
At that stage, my father was taking the role of the permissive one, while my mother was on the warpath.
I can’t blame him. The best I can get is occasionally, if I’m alone with him, he will lift up my shirt and pinch my nipple in a bored, disappointed, and cursory way, and say, “Meh.”
Lev’s parent preference is clear: He feels that she is more reassuring, more nurturing, and warmer. Fine. She can have that lane.
What I’ve done, instead, is stake out the role of Mr. Fun. While Michelle is busy cooking him organic garbanzos drizzled with hand-pressed virgin olive oil and razor thin slices of fennel, I get down on my hands and knees and race around the floor with him. As a result, Lev is starting to think maybe I’m his older brother rather than his father. His very grizzled-looking older brother.
Michelle is still his favorite — Lev’s not crazy, he knows where his bread is buttered — but I’m the one who’s willing to spend hours having drooling competitions with him. We burp out the ABCs together. We sneak up and fart in each others’ faces. Basic bro stuff. And if he should want to join me out on the roof deck one night for a little game of what I like to call urination on mommy’s basil plants?
Well, let’s just say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
Dimitri Ehrlich is a multi-platinum selling songwriter and the author of 2 books. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Rolling Stone, Spin, and Interview Magazine, where he served as music editor for many years.