I swore it would never happen to me. Since I am me, I reasoned, I would be in control of such things. But this was apparently a flawed theory because, somehow, I have managed to become that dad — you know, the one many guys looked upon with disgust when they didn’t yet have kids.
This stranger who looks like me, only fatter, does things that my pre-dad self swore he would never do should he ever find a woman willing to procreate. And I don’t know what’s worse, the fact that post-dad me now does not one but all of them, or that I couldn’t care less what a reprehensible hypocrite I am. Let me count the ways I’m now this dad.
I tolerate (certain) bad behavior.
The dads who used to let their kids kick the airplane seat in front of them, the one with me in it, were the ones I wished dead the hardest in life. How could they not say anything?
Except that I became that dad last month. My 7-year-old daughter was bored and tired and it just happened. I told her to stop, and she did. But, 11 minutes later, she kicked again. So, when the angry tough guy in front of her turned a third of the way around for some side-leer, I shrugged my shoulders at him because, hey, I tried.
Honestly, my daughter is already too societally constrained. Today’s kids have 475 more rules to memorize than we did. Most (such as bike helmets, peanut-free tables, and what to do when being shot at by a semiautomatic weapon in elementary school) contravene the fun memories and personal freedoms I associate with being young and bullied.
So, if she wants to say “eff off” to a rule every now and then, I will respect that.
Besides, you have to pick your battles, and side-leering stranger-dude’s comfort was not more important to me than the dog’s teeth getting brushed when we got home.
I say “because I said so.” A lot.
As a kid, I was pathetically familiar with this bullying lack of an answer. It was the reason why eating in our car was wrong, why my parents would not buy a boat, and why my shoes could never be left on the dining-room floor overnight. I mean, were my parents honestly expecting company between 9 p.m. when I went to bed and 7:30 a.m. when I caught the bus for school? (And should that really have been the kind of company whose opinion about the errant placement of footwear mattered to them?)
As a kid, I made my future/father self promise to explain why requests cannot be honored to my future child using reasons less abusive than because I have all the power and you don’t. I made him promise to address concerns, value opinions and help come up with alternatives that all parties could live with.
But sometimes, you’re just drained after working an unhinged day alongside unhinged grown-ups – a word, by the way, that I hate myself for having just used — and there’s just no better reason than “because I said so” for your child to brush your dog’s teeth instead of you. (God, I freaking HATE that chore.)
And yes, I realize I am already contradicting what I said in my “I tolerate bad behavior” section. But when it comes to managing how my child acts, inconsistency is my co-pilot.
I call my child a stupid name. Publicly, too.
Holy crap, I hated dads who did this. There are few sounds more pathetic than a 300-lb. gangbanger running through a food court yelling: “Cuddle-Bear!” Bubba is what my daughter answers to at home. My wife thought of it when she was a baby. It was hysterical at the time because of its irony; she looked nothing like someone’s new prison roommate.
Now, it’s just sickening, and the situation has not improved. We have let this pet name evolve, like some twisted game of humiliation chicken. For some reason I can’t even recall, it’s been Bubba-goo for the last two weeks.Please send help.
I let screens babysit.
I had a childhood friend, Jeffrey, whose parents were never around even when they were home. On the rare occasion that I would see Jeffrey’s dad, he was sitting in the backyard, smoking. And so Jeffrey’s living room was where I first watched Kentucky Fried Movie while his dad smoked.
It’s also where I learned that cable TV controller porn trick with a magnet — and don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m typing about – while his dad smoked.
I love my daughter 100 percent of the time. I want that on the record before I state what comes next. But about 30 percent of the time when we’re alone – especially when a work deadline is involved, or even a particularly emotional Facebook rant — giving her the iPad, telling her to stay on the couch, and yelling through a closed bedroom door every 20 minutes to make sure she is still alive is all the fathering she will get. And I stopped with the Kids YouTube, too. She’s back to the regular kind because I can’t take all those extra-high voices yelling.
In case you were wondering, yes, Jeffrey’s dad died of lung cancer.
I pick up my child late from after-care…on purpose.
My daughter’s Boys & Girls Club closes at 6 p.m., but my boss and co-workers all stay at the office until then. So there is palpable workplace pressure for me to stay until the last possible minute. The issue here is most likely my definition of “possible.” I stay until the precise moment that picking up my daughter on time requires me to ignore all red lights and stop signs. Anyway, 6 p.m. is only when Boys & Girls Club claims to close. They will still be there, as they always are, thrilled at having spent more time than they were paid less than minimum wage to do with my daughter after every other child is gone.
I have shamefully obsolete musical taste.
When I was a kid, my dad had no clue who The Cars, Elvis Costello or Blondie were. He learned, quite involuntarily, by watching the Saturday Night Live musical guests with me. And he let me know how unnecessary he thought it was for him to possess any of this knowledge. He mentioned how Costello was “no Herb Alpert.”
Now, the trumpet is on the other foot. When the family watches Hulu’s next-day SNL replay, and our daughter begs us not to fast-forward through the musical guest so she can have a dance party – I know, cute, right? — I catch myself wondering aloud who the hell James Bay is and how Chance the Rapper is no Elvis Costello.
At least my wife and I have our daughter’s interest to thank for having heard of at least one Grammy Award winner per year.
As a kid, the facts I thought were true included the potential freezing of funny faces, the causal relationship between catching colds and jacket-wearing, and the complete lack of replacement batteries available for my noisiest toys.
I can remember impressing myself with how entirely honest I would be if I ever had a child. That was before my wife and I had an actual child. And before that child had a “phone” that was really an iPod Touch, before she thought that the ice-cream truck music ending meant no more ice cream, and before I had to go along with Santa Claus or risk divorce.
When our daughter turned 6, I decided I couldn’t keep her so ignorant on every front.
“Do you really believe in a fat guy who visits seven billion chimneys in a single night when he wouldn’t even get down one without getting stuck?” I asked her.
“No, Daddy,” she replied, “but keep your voice down because Mommy believes in him.” (True story.)
Not everything I do, that I once hated certain dads for doing, makes me a bad dad. Okay, so mostly only one doesn’t, but I’m going to end on it so you’ll remember me this way…
Right in my iPhone’s camera roll, at all times, is a recent photo of my daughter for me to flash at strangers who don’t exactly ask to see it. All someone needs to do is mention their offspring to me and it will come out, to prove that whatever human being they created cannot possibly be as adorable as the one I did. Because, despite my failings, she’s a pretty great kid.