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I Separate My Kids So I Can Remember How Cool They Are

My son is not my son when he is being a brother. 

I have two boys who I will call Tony and Tubes because they’ll someday figure out how to Google shit and be super pissed if this is the first result for their names. Tony is 4; Tubes is 5. But because I have two sons and a wife, I actually have six sons in total. Let me explain the math:

My first son is Tubes. He’s sensitive and funny and really loves getting attention. When he doesn’t he acts out, hits and screams, etc. Typical pattern. When he feels the warmth of love, the only way I can describe his personality is that it’s like being the presence of a beautiful flower, full of intricacy, tenderness and wonder.

Then there’s Tony, Tubes’ younger brother. Tubes is outgoing and sweet, really the sweetest, naughtiest, most joyful young man I’ve ever encountered. Because I’m a travel writer, I’ve gone all over the world, usually on someone else’s dime and in the lap of luxury. But being around Tony is like basking in the warmest sun on the most beautiful beach with the coldest beer.

Now onto the next pair:

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Tubes-with-Tony is a little sadistic bugger who reacts to the younger man’s needling with acts of immense and inappropriate violence. He generally doesn’t listen, is seldom quiet, and is often ill-tempered.

Tony-with-Tubes still retains the sweetness he has solo but, in response to his ardent hope that Tubes accepts him coupled with the crushing frustration when he doesn’t, can be a devious little sod in pushing Tubes to the point of reprisal.

The last two sons I have are Tony-with-Tubes-with-Mom and Tubes-with-Tony-with-Mom. Take all the meddlesome aspects of Tony-with-Tubes and Tubes-with-Tony, add a layer of whiny neediness, remove my ability to intercede in any meaningful way, and voila, you’ve met the rest of the ensemble cast.

I love all of my sons, but I love Tony and Tubes the best. This is unfortunate because they rarely make a cameo in my house. And, let’s be clear, that’s my fault.  The problem is that we — my wife and I — have such limited bandwidth when it comes to parenting that two-for-one caretaking is always the go-to solution. So, when I hang out with my kids, I’m nearly always spending time with TwTwM and TwTwM. They are great, but they aren’t the best.

Having diagnosed the problem, I’ve recently been making time for weird rambling adventures with Tony and with Tubes, individually. Sometimes Tony and I will just walk to get coffee and juice and walk around noting the make and model of cars. Tony loves Toyotas, Nissans, and Jeeps most of all. He also thinks all old cars are “super high-quality.” Fuck, I love that kid.

father and son in coffee shop

Sometimes Tubes and I play a game called Mouth or Butt for hours. (The basic rules are one person closes his eyes. The other person either farts or makes a farting noise. The first person then guesses which hole the fart noise came from. It’s a blast.) It’s an odd way to spend time, but he thinks it’s funny and so do I. Neither of us is going to apologize. We (Tubes alone and a I) like what we like.

If I was slightly more full of shit, I’d conclude with this sentence: “When we return to the family, there’s a little bit of Tony and a little bit of Tubes who survive and every time I fart or a car drives by, they reappear.” But that’s not really the case. One reason I treasure those moments alone is that they last only for their duration. There’s no shelf-life; just life life. As soon as we walk back into the door, it’s back to mad scramble. Pacific vibes quickly give way as I yell, discipline, wrangle, and snap while they hit, argue, tease, and slap.

I, of course, mourn the disappearance of Tony and Tubes, their transmogrification into feral chaos-mongers. And they too must mourn their Dad, as he transforms into a red-faced shouter. There is, after all, a different father for each of the boys’ personas. Happily, all it takes to summon back Tony, Tubes, and best version of Dad is a simple question: “Hey, wanna go for a walk….alone?