Category Archives: Man Stuff

I Won’t Be Watching Super Bowl XLIX

I’m coming to the end of my second football-less season. Since I made the decision to withhold my viewership at the beginning of the 2013 NFL season, I have not watched football in my home. I’ve not gone out of my way to avoid football necessarily. I’ve seen the odd quarter while at a friend’s house where watching the game was the main social activity and I’ve seen parts of games out of the corner of my eye at a restaurant or sports bar. The only game I saw multiple quarters of was on Thanksgiving when I was visiting family. It would be kind of jerky to demand that football broadcasts be extinguished whenever I’m around. I didn’t give up watching to make other people uncomfortable. I gave up watching because I was uncomfortable.

But I won’t be going to a Super Bowl party. Again.

And I have to be honest. I feel like maybe I’m spitting into the wind or screaming into the void or whatever metaphor appropriately illustrates the utter futility of my “protest.” Despite the long-standing coverup by the NFL of chronic traumatic brain injuries suffered by players and the evidence that players faced with the pressure to perform continue to return to action without being properly screened for concussion, millions continue to watch. Despite policies that until recently punished smoking marijuana more severely than domestic abuse, viewership rises. Despite the sturm und drang earlier in the year that had people calling for the commissioner of the league to be fired, all seems forgiven and forgotten as revenues reach ever higher into the billions of dollars. Football is our national Id and it will not be denied.

A life without football is weird. Especially when you still consider yourself a sports fan — it is simply unavoidable. I haven’t watched a game this year, but mainly thanks to heavy social media consumption, I can tell you about any number of story lines from the season: blown calls, amazing catches and dramatic comebacks. The narrative of the NFL season is so easy to absorb, seemingly by cultural osmosis, that I can pretty easily fake my end of a conversation about whatever game-of-the-week is on peoples’ minds. It’s like that character from Whit Stillman’s great movie Metropolitan, who doesn’t read books, only book reviews, “You don’t have to have read a book to have an opinion on it. I haven’t read the Bible either.” But unlike that character, I know I’m being a complete phony when I do it. But it seems the lesser evil compared to thrusting my queasy righteousness into an innocent conversation about the failures of the Green Bay secondary. Imagine, “Yeah, the prevent defense is totally useless, but you know what was preventable? Junior Seau’s suicide.” No one likes that guy.

I was at a friend’s house, and he had a playoff game on his television. And I sat down with him and some other guys on the sofa and we were talking while watching the game, and I briefly thought about coming back. Because it was fun to sit there. A bunch of guys mixing talk about the game with talk about our lives. The strange dance of distance and intimacy, posturing and confessing that is the complex choreography of male friendship. And it has its natural soundtrack in the strategy and deception, violence and skill of an NFL game. It shouldn’t be impossible to achieve that without the prop of the game on in the background, but for whatever reason it too often is.

And then I saw a guy absolutely flattened on a kickoff return. The collision was brutal. The player was slow to rise and staggered off the field in their best imitation of a “I’m not hurt” trot to the sidelines. And I remembered. He did that for my entertainment. And I just couldn’t continue. I got up to get myself a drink and never wandered back to the sofa.

I miss the NFL. I miss watching the games with friends. I miss being in Fantasy Leagues. I miss throwing in $5 for an office pool. But I can’t come back. Not yet. Maybe not ever.

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Filed under Facts as we see them, Man Stuff

I Can’t Watch Football Anymore

I’m not watching football anymore. I just can’t. Let me explain.

I didn’t play organized football for very long. I started a new school in 8th grade and for some reason I thought playing on the football team would be a good way to meet people and make friends. Never mind that I was rail thin and maybe 100 pounds sopping wet in a wool sweater. Never mind that the only football I had played up to that point were touch games in the backyard with my friends and the occasional semi-organized game of flag football at summer camp. Never mind that constitutionally I was a better fit for the drama club than the poseur-macho culture of the middle school locker room. I played because I was a football fan – a NY Giants fan to be specific. I had posters of Lawrence Taylor, Carl Banks and Joe Morris on the walls of my bedroom. Bill Parcells was the smartest man alive as far as I could tell. Those guys were my heroes. I lived and died every Sunday watching them play on TV and those rare occasions when I was able to go to a game at the Meadowlands were like religious pilgrimages. So, I played football.

by Archman8

photo by archman8

I remember the first time I really got hit – got my “bell rung” as they say. It was at a practice where the coach had us get in two lines with the front of one line facing opposite of the other. The drill was that the two people at the front of each line would run and hit each other – no one was the defender or ball carrier – just straight-up collide in the middle and see who “wins.” I’m not sure if it was a physics experiment or if it had some instructional value about how to hit someone. I don’t remember whom I was up against, and I don’t even remember how ferociously or not I tried to hit them. What I do remember is not only getting knocked on my ass, but the force of the collision slamming into my head and as I got up off the ground slowly, my ears were ringing and the laughing and hooting of the coaches and players was coming through only dimly. I was confused. I was a little disoriented. Did I have a minor concussion? Maybe. Maybe not. People didn’t really seem too concerned about that in-general back then.

I didn’t play football when we started high school the next year. But I was every bit as much a football fan and remained so for many, many years. Some of my favorite father-son moments with my dad occurred around the New York Giants. I was able to instantly bond with my father-in-law over the New York Giants. Even though we live in Washington with its Football Team With a Racist Name, I made sure my son was a Giants fan. I can’t count how many male friendships over the years have been solidified over football talk in-general and the G-men specifically. But throughout that time while I was dimly aware of the violent nature of the game, its reality and consequences were out of view. Sure, there were guys whose knees were shot and tragic stories like Lyle Alzado’s whose health was ruined by steroids, but they were aberrations.

But over the past decade the revelations about the lingering impact of multiple concussions on the physical and mental health of professional football players has changed something for me. These men are doing permanent harm to themselves for my entertainment, harm that persists long after the season is over, long after their career is done, long after we’ve all moved on to the newest crop of faster, stronger players who repeat the same story with exponential violence.

People say, “But certainly these men knew football is a dangerous sport? No one forced them to play. They’re well compensated and with that kind of compensation sometimes comes consequences.” This ignores the fact that fan dollars and gargantuan television contracts feed the system that creates that kind of cruel logic. It ignores the fact that the NFL has gone to extreme lengths to keep the truth of the situation from both players and fans.

That’s why I won’t watch anymore.

William C. Rhoden put it bluntly in this weekend’s Times when writing about the recent settlement of a lawsuit between the NFL and a group of 4,500 former players who claimed to suffer lingering health effects from concussions.

The settlement has put all of us who watch pro football on a moral hot seat. Former players have taken the money, leaving the fans three ways to rationalize their addictive zeal for these weekly spectacles:
■ You love the product and don’t really care about its costs.
■ You are troubled by football but will continue to watch.
■ You will walk away.

Rhoden says he is going to continue to watch “as a cultural critic who thinks that football is merely evidence of erosion in the American soul.” When you’re a New York Times columnist I guess you can get away with that.

But I’m walking away. And not without regrets.

I love the game – the strategy, the execution, the disciplined aggression and the intense rivalries. Football teams are our modern American tribes and this decision leaves me tribe-less, which is a lonely way to be.

I haven’t watched a game these past two weeks. I haven’t watched highlights on SportsCenter or listened to the chatter about the Washington Football Team With The Racist Name on talk radio. I’ve avoided even reading about the games on the news websites I frequent.

And I’ve had several awkward conversations with friends that went something like this:

“Did you watch the game?”
“No, I’m not watching anymore. I just can’t bear it with everything we know about concussions. I feel dirty.”
“Oh.”
“But I heard it was a pretty awful game.”
“Yeah. We got creamed. I gotta go.”

I can tell people don’t want to hear it.
I don’t want to hear it.
Does it really matter if one Giants fan doesn’t watch? Ratings are higher than they’ve ever been, so I guess not.

But I can’t be a part of this anymore.

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Filed under Facts as we see them, Man Stuff

I Created a New Word For Little League Parents

Paterkinderschlagenangstentspannen

Paterkinderschlagenangstentspannen (pater•kinder´schlagen•angst•ent´spannen) ¹ (noun) The feeling of dread a parent has watching their child batting in little league and the subsequent feeling of relief when they get a hit. ex: Josh was filled with paterkinderschlagenangstentspannen as the Wolvog swang the bat and hit the ball sharply past the third baseman’s outstretched mitt.

It came to me while I was watching the Wolvog at-bat. I needed a word. A word for that feeling a parent gets when watching their child bat during little league, particularly those early years of little league when they’ve taken the ball off the tee and are hurling it via a machine through the air for the kids to hit. And you can strike out. Ok, so perhaps we’re talking about a league where you get more than three strikes before you sit-down, so the training wheels aren’t all the way off, but still. It’s time to start learning that you’re going to fail sometimes. Some days you’re going to fail a lot. Just as tricky: parents have to learn that they’re going to have to sit there and watch their child fail sometimes.

Here’s something I’ve learned: that doesn’t get easier. This is the second year of baseball for the Wolvog and I die on the inside a little bit every time it’s his turn at the plate. I hope he gets a hit. I hope if he hits it right at a player from the other team, that the fielder drops the ball, or mis-fields it, or blows the throw to first base. Worse than that, I hope that if there’s other runners on-base that they tag that kid out rather than my kid. But I hope above everything else that he doesn’t strike out.

This particular fear of the strike out runs counter to current practice in major league baseball where striking out has reached all-time highs. Perhaps earning an average of $3.2 million takes some of the sting out of walking back to the dugout after whiffing. Perhaps reaching the highest level of professional sports gives them the confidence not to care very much more if they strikeout rather than pop or ground-out. An out’s an out after all. Get ’em next time.

But for some of us (and our children) who have not achieved those heights, the strikeout is synonymous with utter failure. You even look a little foolish, swinging your bat through the air, a little off-balance, while the ball sails by unmolested. You end up looking and feeling unbalanced, awkward, exposed and impotent. That moment when you swing the bat and don’t make contact with the ball can feel like everyone at the ballpark is pointing and laughing at you in slow motion. It’s embarrassing. The greatest choreographer couldn’t come up with a movement more filled with futility, frustration and raw failure than the feeling of swinging and missing that third strike. (Sexist linguistics aside, there’s a reason a guy unsuccessfully hitting on a girl at a bar is said to have “struck out.” Failure + a dose of humiliation = struck out.)

But of course, you have to keep all of that on the inside. You need to tell your child the exact opposite. Everyone strikes out – Babe Ruth struck out all the time. You’ll get ’em next time. Choke up on the bat. Shorten your swing. Remember to step toward the plate, not away. Keep your eye on the ball. No tears. Keep your confidence up, half of hitting is mental. There’s no crying in baseball. Which is bullshit. But in any case, learn to keep your shit together even though you’re dying on the inside. It’s an important life lesson and there’s no easy way to learn it. Sorry kid. You think this hurts, wait ’til you fall in-love.

But. If he hits the ball, it can feel like disaster averted. A call from the governor. The sun bursts through the clouds and the angels sing the Hallelujah chorus. Your child will be filled with confidence. And even-tempered, well-adjusted and sociable. They’ll say later in life that they were blessed with a happy childhood and not hate their father for making them play baseball!

There’s no word for that, so I turned to the Germans who have a word for everything, but unfortunately do not play baseball. Or at least don’t play it very well. While I was sitting and watching the Wolvog’s team in the field I cobbled together a new German word — because if they can have words like Verschlimmbesserung (a supposed improvement that actually makes things worse) and Fingerspitzengefühl (the ability to think clearly about many individual complex events and treat them as a whole) then why not a word that contains all the emotions detailed above.

Thankfully Google Translate made the task fairly easy and thus I came up with Paterkinderschlagenangstentspannen. Pater (father) kinder (children) schlagen (hitting) angst (fear) entspannen (relax).  Please send a nickle every time you use it from here forward.

You’re welcome.

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Filed under Lies, Man Stuff, Parenting, Weekends

Commute My Sentence

I normally take the metro to work. I like being able to read, write, check my email, space-out or catch a quick nap on my way to work and since I commute from the end of the Red Line I always get a seat in the morning. Afternoons are a different story, but that’s not why I’m writing this.

Another reason that I like to take the metro to work even though it is not really faster than driving and with every year the cost differential narrows, is that the parking situation near my office is abysmal. There are a few treasured “all-day” spots on 16th Street after 9:30 am and other than that you’re left to play cat and mouse with DC’s very efficient parking enforcement goon squads in the two-hour zoned residential neighborhood around my office.

But every now and then my boss goes out of town and I get use of a reserved spot — and I feel like I’m wasting the opportunity if I don’t drive to work. It’ll be great I tell myself. I can run errands on the way to and from work. I won’t be subject to the Red Line’s whims and occasional blood-lust. I can listen to NPR and Sports Talk Radio – both luxuries that a metro commute foreshortens. So instead of driving to the metro, parking and taking my place with the other proles, I top-off my coffee, get in my car and point it south toward the District.

Sometime round-about the top of 16th Street I remember: I hate driving to work not because I hate parking at work, I hate driving to work because I hate DRIVING to work. This usually strikes me when I get to the Class-5 rapids disguised as a traffic circle (circle doesn’t actually capture it — more like a tear-drop shaped convergence of vehicular bedlam, confusion and grief) at the border between Silver Spring and the District. If I survive that Scylla and Charybdis then I get to enjoy the bottleneck that is most of 16th Street NW.

Around this time is when some hopelessly boring and obscure story comes on NPR that is so pretentious it sounds like it came out of a Saturday Night Live parody of an NPR broadcast. So, no problem, I switch over to Sports Talk Radio. And they’re talking about the Washington football team with the racist name. In March. When it’s Spring Training for Baseball. Pro Hockey and Basketball are in full swing, our decent Major League Soccer team just opened its season. March Madness is about to cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war. Heck, even NASCAR and professional golf are competing. Basically every sport except football is in full-effect. But they’re talking about football and who the Washington football team with the racist name should look for with their third-round pick in the draft.

16th street nwAnd I’m feeling drowsy. My circadian rhythms are aching for that power nap I normally take between Van Ness and Woodley Park. So I reach for my coffee. But I’ve finished it.  Not only that, my bladder is very aware that I’ve finished all 16 ounces. By the time I get to Mount Pleasant and the inevitable backed-up Metrobuses followed quickly by the mandatory closed lane alongside Meridian Hill Park, I’m stressed out and gripping the steering wheel so tightly that I can’t even appreciate the gorgeous view as I descend towards U Street. It really is a great view on the mornings when I can actually enjoy it — although even though it has been twelve years, I still view the airplanes approaching National Airport with some suspicion and half expect that one day I’ll see one slam into the White House or something else awful.

This is the mood I’m in when I get to the office.

Still. Every time it’s offered I’ll fall for it. Because who can turn down free parking?

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Filed under Commuting, Man Stuff

Clearing the Decks

I’ve been trying to organize my thoughts recently and was having some trouble doing so. Then I remembered, “Hey, I’ve got this blog just taking up [cyber]space.” So I decided, for the moment to rejuvenate this place to help put things in order and perhaps even receive some helpful feedback. So here is a small brain-dump for my own purposes.

1. I’ve been experiencing a lot of real estate envy lately. This was aroused by a trip to Takoma Park to pick up a cheesecake to celebrate a co-worker from Capital City Cheesecake (Oreo and Strawberry cheesecakes for the record – both delicious). Then there was the article in the Post about the “Post-Hippie Takoma Park” which sort of put into words what I find so attractive about that area

“Takoma is getting older, or at least the activists are getting older and not as engaged,” said Eric Hensal, who moved to the city in 2003 and who is running for a seat on the City Council. “It’s almost like Takoma really is at the post-hippie phase.”

In the past, Takoma Park officials balanced such issues as national immigration policy and nuclear proliferation with more parochial concerns, such as traffic. But these days, there is a feeling that the city should focus more on issues that directly affect its residents, such as a ban on chemical pesticides, council member Tim Male said.

“People are realizing that there’s places where our voices will really have a big impact and there are places where it won’t,” said Male, who moved with his wife to the city a decade ago. They now have two children.

It’s not that I dislike where I live. We have a great school for the kids. Through them we’ve met other nice families with parents I enjoy spending time with and who provide a sense of community. Our area is actually more diverse than people give it credit for, so it’s not stereotypically suburban-homogenous and it’s a place lots and lots of people would be thrilled to live. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t long for a shorter commute, a slightly more walkable area and a different kind of a sense of community that’s socially engaged but locally focused. A single family home there would be a bit of a stretch for us and we’re comfortable where we are so nothing is likely to happen any time soon. But a fellow can dream, can’t he?

2) I’ve lost about 16 pounds over the last three months. All the credit goes to Melissa who convinced me to start using MyFitnessPal, not as a diet, but as a lifestyle change that develops healthier eating habits. Now I track my meals every day, and it’s almost like I haven’t actually eaten until I enter the information in the meal tracker. Like they say in this commentary on Marketplace, it can become an (unhealthy?) obsession. Now, every day I try and eat fewer than 1,900 calories and most days I succeed. It really does become habit forming.

3) Despite working in a building with full fitness facilities available to me for free, I have not lost any of this weight by exercising. That’s not meant to be a brag, more an indication of how overweight I really was. However, having shed these pounds has made me think about exercising more. One day when I brought the kids to our community pool, I swam some laps for the first time in many, many years. Perhaps 500 yards, but it felt good to be doing something. Next week I went out and bought a pair of goggles and that weekend, combining several “adult swims” I swam closer to 1000 yards. Now I am trying to figure out how I can work swimming a few times a week into my schedule. Again, there’s a pool where I work, but I am beginning to see the value of scheduling stuff like this away from work so that work doesn’t have as good a chance to subsume it. I’ve consider joining a Masters Swim Team, but I think to begin I’m just going to try and get to bed a little earlier and make it to the local aquatic center before I go to work.

I was a competitive swimmer until I got to high school and joined the water polo team (yes, my school had a water polo team). I was okay, but I got tired of going back and forth. I always lost count of my laps. I didn’t know what to think about when I was swimming and my late-adolescent brain was too crowded a place for me to get outside of in the isolation of a pool. I thought it was boring and I had gotten to the age where either you start training really seriously or you stop. So I stopped. Today I wonder if I would have gotten bored if they had the gadgets that are available today like waterproof MP3 players and digital lap counters. I am trying to get motivated by promising myself that if I really do begin swimming regularly and stick to it, I’ll get one or two of these gadgets.

4) Since last spring I’ve been following the Washington Nationals really closely. I made the conscious decision to designate the Nats as my primary baseball team because I wanted my kids to be able to root for the home-town team. I figured if that were going to happen, I would have to lead by example. Little did I know that in the process, my wife would transform in a Nats Superfan. The kids have also really taken to the team, particularly the Wolvog, who was playing youth baseball for the first time this year. We’ve taken them to a bunch of games and fortunately, this Nationals team is both a really likable bunch, and amazingly successful at this point of the season. If they keep winning the 2012 Nationals could hold a particularly special place in the kids’ lives, like the 1978 Yankees and 1986 Giants did for me. Those teams for me become a kind of gateway to thinking and feeling what it was like to be a kid with heroes and the magic of a championship run. Players like Ron Guidry, Thurmon Munson, Lawrence Taylor and Phil Simms always place me back in a time of innocence and simple joys that being a fan can provide. I’m hoping Gio Gonzalez, Bryce Harper, Ian Desmond and Ryan Zimmerman can occupy a similar place for my kids.

*+*+*+*

That’s the brain-dump for now. Perhaps if I do this a little more frequently, the posts will be more coherent. In any case, consider this post a small step back to more regular writing, kind of like the first few days of counting calories were kind of sucky, but now it is more habitual. In any case, I’ll hit publish now and we’ll see how long it is before I hit it again.

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July 15, 2012 · 8:59 pm

Only Losers Think Everyone Should Win: Thoughts on Competition from a Graduate of the Billy Martin School of Sportsmanship

Melissa and I were watching the opening ceremonies of the Olympics the other night when an ad came on the television, that said something to the effect of, “Right now, everyone’s tied.*” Melissa approved of the ad. I did not. And we began talking a little bit about how this was reflective of our different views on competition. She likes the idea that for a moment everyone’s tied. Nobody has lost. We’re all here for the warm-and-fuzzies of participating in the Olympics. While that emotion is certainly a nice one, it just doesn’t ring true to me and I suspect for any of the athletes participating in the Games. Every single one of them came to win — even the guy who is fated to come in twenty-fifth in a field of twenty-five believes somewhere in his gut that he could come out of nowhere and shock the world (his brain knows better). I think the concept of “everyone’s tied” only works as being representative of the hope the everyone, even the Moroccan skier, could be a winner.

But this raised the larger question of how to talk to the kids about competition. I was a very competitive kid. Like, waaaay too competitive when I really got into it. When I was 10 or 11 I got called-out for tagging up at third base before the ball had been caught and I flipped-out to such a degree that even Billy Martin would have been saying, “Whoa, calm down there kid, just a Little League game.” Even writing about it now, I get mad, because I had led-off the inning with a triple and I know, and I mean KNOW FOR A CERTAINTY, that I tagged up properly. That, plus the teenage umpire had a brother on the other team and I think that might have influenced the call. It’s been over twenty-five years and I’m still pissed.

Part of growing-up (and a hard part at-that) has been learning how to positively channel that competitive energy without going over the edge to the dark side. I’ve tried a couple of different approaches. One was to completely remove myself from those situations where I get too competitive. I don’t play video games, I don’t play racquetball or tennis because eventually I’ll get so into-it, that I’ll forget I was supposed to be having fun. Or, if I participate I have to consciously not care about winning — which usually means I lose, also no fun (plus the people you’re playing against can usually tell, and that’s no fun for them either). I’ve yet to really be able to reach what should be my goal, to try my hardest and be happy with that.

So, I admit that I am perhaps not the best role model for my kids when it comes to competition. I’d like to be as zen about it as Melissa seems to be, but I think that the desire to compete and win is an irrepressible evolutionary trait of men (and many women). Every time I think, “Maybe now I’m old enough and wise enough and mellow enough not to lose myself too much in a game” (particularly a physical one) I find that eventually, my temper and grumpy sportsmanship surfaces. Just recently I lost my temper playing Wii Fit Rhythm Parade. Let me repeat that: I lost my temper playing a game in which my Mii was dressed like a drum major marching to a beat. I thought I did pretty good by only lightly tossing the Wii remote when it was done, but apparently I didn’t toss it as lightly as I intended. Sorry ’bout that, Mel.

But here’s the thing — it wasn’t my parents who either through intent or neglect made me this way. In fact, they were usually pretty horrified by my behavior when I would go all Lou Pinella on some poor 15-year-old who only thought he was helping-out when he agreed to umpire his brother’s Little League game (NEAR-SIGHTED, CROSS-EYED MORON!). So, does anything I have to say really have any chance of influencing how my kids behave in the thick of competition? I hope so. I can already see some of myself in the Wolvog’s fits when he gets frustrated at a game.

And the Olympics is probably the best example of how to conduct oneself with intensity in-competition and grace in-defeat. So we’ll be watching with the kids and maybe they’ll pick-up on the fact that when you try your hardest and still lose, you can do so with pride and learn from your loss. But I also fear that they’ll pick-up on the truth that winning can be a drug, and when you’re longing for it, you are capable of behaving in ways that you won’t always be proud of. It’s a lesson I’m still trying to teach myself. Because I truly do believe that how you play really is more important than if you win or lose…

But I still think the concept of everyone being tied is kind of lame.

This is what he said.  Click here to find out what she said.

* If you know what ad I’m talking about please email me (notforprofitdad [at] gmail dot-com) because it is driving me crazy that I can’t remember and I’ve wasted way too much time on YouTube trying in vain to find it.

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Filed under He Said She Said, Man Stuff, Parenting

My Kids Love Me So Much They Hate Me a Little

I have great kids. They are smart and funny, kind and caring. They can immerse themselves in their own imaginary worlds for endless hours of creative play merging Lego’s, Playmobil, Hotwheels and My Little Pony. They can amaze Melissa with their intuition and ability to help out when she needs it most. The three of them develop a rhythm to their days and weeks that is somehow both orderly and zany.

And then I get home from work and they freak-out like ninjas on crystal meth.

We’re going through a phase. Mel tells me it is a phase. Or at least I hope it is a phase. Typical day:

I get up before the kids. Shave. Shower. Caffeinate. Usually around the time I am ready to leave for work they wake up. If they wake up early enough I give each of them a cuddle before I go. This is when the trouble begins. I come into the room and I’m like a piece of bloody meat thrown into a shark tank. The Wolvog and the Chickienob bolt out of bed and shoot towards me — whoever arrives first grabs my leg with one arm and invariably throws a “good-morning “elbow in their sibling’s face. Tears ensue. To prevent this I have taken to setting in advance who gets the first cuddle on alternating days — a decent solution, if only I could remember from day-to-day whose turn it is. This method works best if I enter the room forcefully and announce who gets the first cuddle before they can launch themselves on an intercept course. Fifty percent of the time it works. The other fifty percent one of the following occurs:

a) I screw up whose turn it is (they never forget) and the (rightly) aggrieved party throws a fit. When I backtrack to the award the proper recipient the cuddle, the other child feels (rightly) screwed and throws a fit.
b) I correctly announce whose turn it is, but one of the kids, probably still smarting from the time when I told them it was their cuddle and then backtracked and said it wasn’t, freaks out and throws a fit.
c) They accept the determined cuddling order, but hover over each other in such an obnoxious way that hostilities ensue. Elbows are thrown. Tears are shed.

If there is time before I leave, we move onto breakfast, but not before arguing over who gets to hold my hand with the wedding ring as we go downstairs. If there isn’t time before I leave, someone will throw a fit that they wanted Daddy to give them breakfast. I do or do not give them breakfast, hand out hugs and kisses, and attempt to escape from the Chickienob’s joking-but-not-so-much-a-joke grip as she robotically chants, “It’s the Daddy-trapper. Trapping Daddies.” Sometimes howling and beating of chests accompany me as I walk out the door.

And then I leave and according to Mel, everything goes back to normal. They stop throwing tantrums and get on with their day.

“It’s totally for your benefit,” she tells me.  They pull all sorts of crap with me that they don’t try with her. I wasn’t sure I truly believed it was as simple as that until this encounter the other day:

The kids have to eat a vegetable with their meal. Usually it’s carrots. This was a battle for a long time with the Wolvog, but he has grown to accept and even enjoy his carrots. Except when I give them to him. He insists that I cut them up into smaller slivers for him. When Mel is feeding the kids she doesn’t indulge the Wolvog in this game. He eats his carrots as they are given to him. I however, have been obliging him in this because, frankly I just want him to eat the damn carrots. But the other day, after several morning tantrums and a lunch that he drew-out endlessly and the carrots were still uneaten and he announced that he would not eat them unless I cut them for him, I called his bluff.

“You never have them cut when I’m not home,” I announced in my best J’Accuse!

He looked at me with round, innocent eyes full of love and confusion and said, “But you ARE home.”

And this is the plight of the dad: to be loved so much you’re a little bit hated for not being around enough. Was I this way with my dad? I don’t remember it that way. My dad was loving, but also a little remote and when he had to work, he had to work. I understood not to try and compete with that. I’m not sure what I’m doing that’s different but I have created a different expectation in my kids, and it is sometimes like a knife in my chest. It also gives me some sympathy for the stereotypically emotionally remote fathers of yore — why be an involved dad when you can only do it on a limited time frame?

But I don’t want to be emotionally remote. I love being in my kids’ lives and putting them first whenever that is an option. And every parent has to accept that they’ll have to act as a punching bag for their kids as they struggle to figure out the imperfect choices we have to make in life.

If only I could consistently remember whose turn it was for the first cuddle in the morning…

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