Just trying to do what my dad did

“Dad, English Premier League Soccer is on.  It’s Everton vs. Newcastle today.  I made nachos.  Do you want to come watch it with me?”

The truth is, I do not really want to watch it today.  I love watching soccer, but I have stuff to do and I really have no vested interest in these teams.  However, much like every Saturday, I will sit down in my chair an try to watch at least half of the match.  For the next 90 minutes plus added time, I am going to be bombarded with the history of players whose names I can not pronounce. I will hear all about their stats and how much teams are paying at the transfer window.  Ben will critique the manager’s tactical decisions, inform me which teams will soon be relegated and point out all the things he would do different if he was playing.  Clearly a fourteen year old boy knows more than the top players and managers in the world.

Why do I do this every weekend? First, the boy makes really good nachos. Second, it reminds me of one of my favorite childhood memories.

In 1987, for some reason, I was in really into baseball.  That year, he Detroit Tigers and Toronto Blue Jays played each other in the final game of their seasons. After 161 games, they were deadlocked and the divisional championship came down to the last game of the season. In 1987, my dad had back surgery and was laying in a hospital bed on game day.  I do not remember who suggested it, but my mother dropped me off at the hospital to sit in my dad’s room and watch the game with him.

I was excited because it was just my dad and me. I sat in the chair by his bed and for the next nine innings, I impressed him with my knowledge of the players. I entertained him with the statistics of every player who came to the plate and regaled him with my knowledge of the season. I was on my game and eagerly pointed out the mistakes the Tiger manager made because, after all, a teen boy in Kalamazoo, Michigan obviously knew more about baseball than Sparky Anderson who had only been around the Major League for a couple decades.

The nurses came in every few innings to check on us and my dad introduced me to every one of them and told them about how I was spending the game with him.  I remember them smiling. When my dad’s meal came, there was an extra Jello, pop and apple sauce under the metal cover,  My dad hung in there. I remember being a little baffled about how he could possibly slip in and out of sleep during such an important and tense game. In hindsight, I am pretty impressed that he could stay awake at all.  The combination of painkillers and baseball would put me in a coma.

The game ended. I am going to go purely on faded memories on this next part. The Tigers won the game 1-0.  Frank Tanana pitched a complete game shut-out and the only run scored was a solo home run to left-center field in the first couple of innings by Chet Lemon.  Or maybe it was Larry Herndon. I always confused those two. I want to say the game ended on a weak grounder back to Tanana.   I will have to fact check those 30+ year old memories later. I remember my dad thanking me and once again telling the nurses that I had spent the whole game with him as I left. I am not sure it it was pride of morphine talking. Probably both.

As a parent, I feel like I screw something up every single day. I am constantly worried that some day, my kids will remember me as some type of ogre who snapped at them for not putting their games down fast enough, for being too loud, or for making my living room a bigger mess than a frat house on Sunday morning.  I definitely over think it but I really try to counter all of that with small things like watching a soccer match with Ben or suffering through an overly complicated board game James (seriously, when did  games stop coming with spinners?).

Will Ben remember, or care, that I spent a good chunk of my Saturday morning watching an inconsequential match with him?  Probably not.  However, maybe one of these games something special will happen. Maybe not. Maybe he will simply be having a crappy day and me listening to him reporting transfer rumor will make it better.  Maybe he will remember that. I don’t know.

I am sure most of these Saturdays will fade from both of our memories.  However, almost every time I settle in and the barrage of information starts, I smile for a second and remember sucking Sprite out of a styrofoam cup in a hospital room over thirty years ago with my dad.  Maybe some day, my boys will sit with their son or daughter and grind out a football game, basketball game or dance recital (oh, please let it be a dance recital) and think of me.  I can hope.

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Dragons

Every  night the dragon came and every night Keri fought it.  At first, it was a minor nuisance.  A small little lizard that appeared at sunset, scratched at her window and was easily chased away.  But in the past months, it had grown. Not only was the dragon larger and more fierce, but it was fighting longer and longer. Still, it was always beaten back by sunrise.

Keri continued to deliver wood to the villagers. A few of them whispered of seeing strange lights and noises coming from Keri’s land at night, but few thought much of it. Keri continued to bring wood and what business of theirs was it? After all, nobody really believed in dragons.

The monster continued to grow and Keri’s battles now stretched throughout the night.  While once, she had been simply able to chase the dragon away, she now spent the evenings fending off its attacks.  She no longer troubled herself with trying to beat the dragon back but simply tried to survive until the dragon grew bored and fled.  Worse yet, the dragon now brazenly stayed until the first rays of sun stretched over Keri’s land.

Keri began having difficulty making her deliveries on time. Most of the villagers quickly forgave her, but whispers began.  Some wondered why Keri continued to wear long tunics in the heat, but others caught glimpses of the bruises or the long, bloody claw marks that ran the length of Keri’s arms from where the dragon had raked her.  While Keri’s deliveries had once been a source of peace, she now caught glimpses of the dragon stalking her.  Even during the day.  A tail disappearing beneath the underbrush beside the road.  A curl of smoke coming from behind a pile of rock.  Always there. Always waiting for sunset.

At the town festival, a battered Keri was approached by the Men in Orange.  Her head swam from her drink, but she eventually told them that she was fighting a dragon. To  her surprise, they did not mock her. They believed her. They slammed their steins on the table and swore their allegiance. The Men in Orange told her to light a signal fire when the dragon next attacked. They would come riding and together they would kill the dragon.

For weeks, Keri lit a fire every night that the dragon arrived.  As the dragon pummeled her, she stared down the road desperately searching for a sign of orange. It never came and she stopped lighting fires. Occasionally, a neighbor would wander by and throw rocks at the dragon, but it had grown far too powerful to be repelled by stones.  Finally, at dawn, the dragon pinned her to the ground. The morning sun hit its face and it was unfazed. It leaned forward and hissed into Keri’s ear, “This is the last time I leave. You will never be rid of me” and flew off.

Keri delivered wood and feared the coming night.  She did not know if the dragon’s threat was a promise to torment her forever or if it intended to carry her away.  Her last stop was a reclusive old man. He noticed Keri’s bruises and told her that he had seen the dragon following Keri. He pitied her and produced a sword that he claimed had killed dragons for generations.  Keri skeptically took it and and returned home.

That night, the dragon came and Keri killed it. There was no battle. The dragon approached and the sword easily pierced its scales.  Keri looked at the dead dragon in disbelief. Its body began to shrivel and shrink before her. She quickly cut off its head and hid it away.

Every night, Keri slept beside her sword but no dragons came.  With the dragon gone, smaller monsters that troubled all of the villagers began to occasionally approach Keri’s land. Goblins, spiders, and trolls were quickly disposed of. What chance do they stand against a sword that kills dragons? Eventually, even they stayed away from Keri and nothing bothered her.

A year later, Keri no longer slept by her sword and had it safely hidden underneath her floor boards.  The village prepared for its annual festival.  As the people danced in the commons, Keri rode into town and mounted the dragon’s head on a stake in the village square. The crowd momentarily hushed before everyone began talking at once. The children ran to the head in order to see a monster.  Some sat in silent disbelief as they had never believed in dragons.  Others murmured that they had thought they had seen dragons around.  Neighbors apologized for not having better weapons than stones. The Men in Orange swung their swords in the air and roared that they would stand beside anyone to kill dragons if they would only light a signal fire.  Some claimed to have killed dragons themselves.

The festival wore on for days and the dragon became less of an oddity. Merchants traded goods.  People gamed. The Men in Orange filled their cups and danced.  Someone produced a chicken with two heads. Children flocked to see a dancing bear.  Keri removed the dragon’s head and threw it in the lake.

Keri lives quietly on her land now.  She delivers wood to the village. Time has passed and she barely remembers the dragon.  Occasionally, she is startled from her sleep by a scratching noise at her window but it is always a branch from a tree.  A shadow falling over her causes her to flinch but she knows the shadow is only a hawk and not dragon wings. Still, she watches.

The village exists. Its wheels turn. They still gather every day to work, talk, and play before returning to their own lands and whatever waits for them there.  Keri believes there may still be dragons out there but does not believe they will bother her again.   She delivers her wood with a smile and confidently walks through her lands unarmed.

Real parenting milestones

You always hear about the cute little milestones.  First steps, first words, first tooth falling out, first haircut, first time going to school.  These moments are supposed to be so magical, but I am going to be honest with you.  All the little Hallmark milestones are nice but they have not elicited the biggest emotional responses out of me.  Let me break down the real parenting milestones.  The milestones that actually elicit the biggest emotional responses. Some good, some bad, but these are the important ones.

First Day without the Diaper Bag

More than any other day, this day brought a tear to my eye.  The first time you can yell into the other room, “Hey boys, we gotta go” and then simply walk out of the house is the single most liberating moment of parenting.  No more hoisting a 75 lb diaper bag onto your shoulder. No more checking their shoes.  No more wondering if you restocked that bag with back-up underwear, wipes, flares, or snacks.  No more wrestling the boys into the car seat.  No more pinning down the flailing little monster with 17 layers of coats while you desperately try to fasten a 5-pt harness onto what looks like a writhing mini-Michelin Man. No more trudging into the snow looking like a Sherpa.  The day when the time between announcing that it’s time to leave and putting the key in the ignition is under 37 minutes has been the greatest day of my parenting career.

“Dad, don’t put it into reverse until I buckle my own seat and you stop crying?”

“I’m sorry son. I’m just so happy.”

First time ordering off of Adult Menu

This one just sucks.  “Dad, I don’t want a mini grilled-cheese with apple slices and a plastic cup of juice.  I want the Bomb-Burger with fries and a Coke with refills!”

This milestone is not sad because you realize that your son is becoming a young man.  There is no moment when you sadly look at the boy before you and see a pudgy little baby cramming Puffs and Cheerios into his mouth. You do not flash back to a tiny infant drinking 6 oz of milk, belching and falling into a bloated, post-meal coma.

What you see is your bill tripling.  What you see is the waitress carrying away about a third of that Bomb-Burger because your little glutton power chugged 40 oz of carbonated sugar before the meal even showed up.  You are sad because you know you are going to be eating out far less.

Toileting

Obviously, when the kid starts using the toilet there are a million obvious pluses.  Obviously, you are done with diapers. You are done with wiping stinky butts.  The diaper bag shrinks or disappears.  Your hands are not longer chafed from the constant washing after handling wet underwear.  There is no longer that hint of “used-diaper” smell that has always lingered in your house.

Here is the real pay-off.  You no longer shackled to a littler person’s excretory system.

“Dad, I need to use the potty.”

“Yup. Better do something about that.  Hey, when you’re done, why don’t you grab me on of those Girl Scout Tagalongs on your way back?”  Pure magic.

First sleep-over

Yes, your child is growing up.  Yes, this is a new level of independence.  Maybe some people are even a little sad that the child no longer needs them quite as much.

But you get to have sex again! And foreplay does not involve the phrase, “Do you think they are asleep?”  You do not have to sneak into each room to double check that they are deep into the REM phase of sleep. You do not have lock your door and set so many security cautions that even semi-sane Tom Cruise from Mission Impossible can not drop in.

True the ultra-erotic bedroom banter of “Wait..Shhh.. shhh.. be quiet! Do you hear Ben?” ends.  You do have to live without my personal favorite, “Don’t move.  I’m serious. DON’T MOVE! Maybe he’ll just flush, wash his hands and go right back to bed. Steady… steaaaaady.. I think he’s almost back in his room… Hooold.. Hooooold… I think he just closed his door…Hey! wake-up!” but it is so worth it.

I got my fist speeding ticket after dropping my boys off at their sleep-over.

First Time Watching Awesome Movies

I had no problem living through years of animated movies and TV shows when the biggest danger was that maybe, just maybe, Daisy wouldn’t be able to finish Goofy’s birthday before the surprise party. Will the Wiggles eat their fruit salad? Will the Imagination Movers finally not be able to brainstorm an idea to get Warehouse Mouse his cheese? Will a Higglytown Hero please just save the day! I’m fine with that.

However, it’s a very special day when you can sit down as a family and watch a Hobbit slog across Middle-Earth for over nine hours without fast-forwarding, editing or trying to explain that those forty arrows probably just tickled Baromir. No son, he’s dead. In fact, every time you ever see Sean Bean, you can just start preparing yourself that he’s going to die. Cows kill Sean Bean.

 

The expansion of movies that we can now watch produces sentimental, deep conversations such as…

“Dad, Aragon just chopped that orc’s head off!  That was awesome. Why are you crying again?”

“Come here and hug your dad.”

I’m not stupid. My boys are not watching anything related to Westeros and I have limits, but being able to watch a show that we all enjoy is an incredible parenting milestone.

“Dad. Are the clones good or bad? I mean, they help the Jedi, but they will eventually be Stormtroopers and they are bad, so are they good, bad, or just do what they are told?”

“Sshhh, little one.  Yoda is about to lay the hurt on Dooku. This is going to be awesome because for years I have carefully planned out the correct order to show you these movies so that when you eventually suffered through these prequels, you would find these next forty-five seconds amazing. Why?

Because I know what the important moments really are.”

THE Day

It was not supposed to go down like this.  There is a bead of sweat rolling down the side of my face as I realize I have made a terrible mistake from which I am not sure I can recover. Staring across the ping-pong table from me is a grim-faced eleven-year old boy who is flexing his knees and taking every shot seriously now.  He thinks today is going to be the day.  He thinks today is the day he takes down his old man.  I have always let him stay close before pulling it out at the end but today I regret that. I have intentionally flubbed a bunch of shots but a few errors on my part (and great shots on his) has left me three points from losing.  He thinks today is the day.

“They” say the happiest and saddest day in every boy’s life is the day that he realize he can beat his father. Video games do not count. It is the day a boy can beat his father at some physical activity.  It is the happiest day because the boy realizes that he is growing up and becoming a man.  However, at the same time the boy suddenly has to face the fact that his dad is not a mythical, invincible deity, but simply a man. A man who is starting to lose the fight with Father Time.  Essentially, the boy kills his hero.

I vividly remember my day. In middle school, I was fast. I was very fast. At an extended family gathering, I mentioned this and my dad made some comment about keeping me in my place.  Not thinking he would ever accept, I challenged him to a race. To my shock, he accepted and my aunts and uncles, and cousins, and grandparents all headed out to the street to watch.  I trudged through the yard already embarrassed because I knew there was no way I could beat my dad. I just never thought he would accept the challenge and now I was going to look dumb. My mom even pulled me aside and said, “Why are you doing this? You know you can’t win. You’re still a boy.”  I knew she was right and I knew that I had put myself in position that I was going to be hearing about for a long time.

At the start line, my dad looked down at me and said, “We are only doing this once. This is you’re only shot. No excuses” I nodded and got ready.  My entire family was out there and my uncle started the countdown.  “On your mark.”  Deep breath.  “Get Set…..” and my old man cheated. He was three strides down the street before I realized I had to move. This was my one shot and I started from behind.

I remember going as hard as I could. I also remember feeling a bit puzzled at how quickly I made up the “head-start.” I was surprised at the half-way point when  I was a couple strides ahead of him and feeling like I had not really even hit my stride. I was in a little disbelief by how much I won by and how I eased up a little at the end because it did not feel right.  Later, I snuck back out there and stared at the street. I was elated because I knew I could out-run grown men and I had beaten my dad. At the same time, there was an odd sense of disappointment and general weirdness. I was too young to put words on it, but later I realized it was the sadness “they ” say every boy feels when he beats his dad. Sad that his hero is really just a man who is starting to get older.

And now Ben thinks today is the day.  I can see it in his eyes. He is not jabbering about Pokemon anymore.  He is not talking about soccer. He has stopped trying to do fancy shots.  The only smile I see is the smile he is desperately fighting to stifle every time he scores. Ben thinks he is three points away from something special.

I know it’s not the day because I have intentionally let him stay close and then made some mistakes. It still takes effort to make the game close without making it obvious that I am tanking.   However, he does not know this. The scoreboard does not know this. The scoreboard says the day is three points away.

I know the day is coming. It is inevitable.  I will feel proud and a little sad.  He will be elated with a weird feeling he can not pin-point.  When that day comes, I want it to be real. For him and me.

I have three points left to make sure I push the day back. Fortunately, Ben is eleven-years-old and is starting to choke. All I have to do is keep the ball on the table and he screws up two points.  On the third point, I put a ton of backspin on my shot and watch his little dreams crumble as he bashes the ball into the net.

He drops his paddle, falls to his knees with a huge smile and yells, “Nooo!”  Ben gets to his feet laughing and gives me a huge hug.  “Dad! I almost beat you!  I thought I was really going to do it today!”

“Yeah buddy. It was close!  You will get me some day.  Today is just not the day.”

The day?”

“Don’t worry about it. You’ll know it when it gets here.”

**Addendum:.  My dad read this blog and recalls our race.  He told me today that he knew the only way he stood a chance was by cheating.

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