A father’s Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is a day for Turkey and mashed potatoes, parades and football, family togetherness and the alcohol that an entire day confined with family requires. And if there’s any time left over from all of this, it’s the chance to steal a moment to be thankful for something.

The Canadians have their Thanksgiving in October. I don’t know if this is because they are more eager to be thankful or because they are hungrier for turkey. Probably both, since nothing builds a healthy appetite faster than digging down deep to cough up a little gratitude.

In order to make sure that I have a good appetite for Thanksgiving dinner, I’ve composed a list of things I, as a father of three young boys, am thankful for.

  • I am thankful that our house has lots of wallpaper nobody likes. This makes the crayon drawings on the walls much more aesthetically pleasing.
  • I am thankful that, for going on 10 years now, I have been too lazy and cheap to replace the ugly wallpaper. My plan to customize the existing paper is working out great.
  • I am thankful that babies can get away with mismatched socks as often as every day. New Baby is terrible at organizing his sock basket.
  • I am thankful that we live in an enlightened society where a man can cause a backup in the drive through, estimating the number of McNuggets needed inside his minivan, without being stripped of every shred of masculinity.
  • I am thankful for the following consonants: B, D, M, N, P, T and W. Without them, Buster’s conversation would be completely unintelligible.
  • I am thankful for all the vowels, because no one has to learn how to elevate the back of his tongue to pronounce them.
  • I am thankful for breasts for a multitude of reasons, but mostly because I don’t have to warm them in hot water for 10 minutes while a screaming, hungry baby wails for a little milk over here!
  • I am thankful for any device that helps me shave six seconds off the time it takes to warm a bottle.
  • I am thankful that I have so far been able to avoid any embarrassing outbursts of road rage in the car line at elementary school. It’s so important to set a good example.
  • I am thankful for generous children who are never too hungry to offer Daddy the crust.
  • I am thankful for every day we get through without Caillou.

But most of all I am thankful for:

A baby who is a good eater, a good sleeper, and a good smiler.

A toddler who is always helpful and quick with a joke.

A first grader who adores and protects his little brothers.

And the loving mother who brought them all into this world, and would gladly bring more, if old age, poverty, and slippage toward bedlam didn’t stand in the way.

Happy Thanksgiving!

thankful horse

That’s a pretty thankful horse, right there.

I love you just the way you are, but you can grow up any time now

The other day, my wife started going on about wanting a baby.  I pointed out that there was a seven-month-old boy somewhere in the house and that if anybody wanted to take the time to locate him, he could be counted as a baby.

“But he’s old and stinky,” she replied. “I want a clean, fresh baby.”

I pointed out that, even though he is eating a lot of “people food” these days, and is therefore stinkier than he used to be, he is, on balance, a relatively clean baby. Then I realized it wasn’t about how stinky he is. The important point was that he wouldn’t be a baby much longer.

My wife has a perpetual craving for an infant in her life.

This is trouble.

Of all the people who see our baby and comment, “Enjoy it while you can; they grow up so fast,” 99% of them are women. The 1% who are men feel pressure to say something and so they repeat what they’ve heard women say, thinking that women must know appropriate comments about babies.

Most men avoid commenting on babies, because, “Won’t it be great when he grows up?” just has that feel of a statement that might not go over well with baby’s mama.

I don’t get the need for constant babies that some mothers have. I have three children whom I love dearly. Two of them are no longer babies and I’m fine with that. The third is a baby, and he and I are counting the days until he can walk and talk and heat up his own milk.

admiring baby

“How long before he can cook his own meals?”

Apparently, mothers spend a fair amount of time looking back and pining for the helpless days of their children. I have no wish to return to the infancy of either of my older boys. I like the generally drool-free children they’ve grown into.

To be honest, I might develop a little nostalgia for Buster’s toddlerhood when he grows out of it. Buster makes such an awesome toddler I sometimes worry that, at two-and-a-half, he’s peaked. If his jokes are half as good when he’s a schoolboy, I’ll probably be all right with his aging.

It’s not that fathers don’t like their babies. They’re just not in our favorite stage. We adore our babies, but look to the future in the same way that a lot of mothers adore their big kids, but regret the lost past.

A father works through the baby period, sustained by the dream that his little bundle of fuss will grow into someone with whom to watch football games and go on battlefield tours. Since we can’t seem to interest the baby in those things now, we bide our time.

I have sympathy for my wife’s feelings, but I can’t keep giving her babies as a pick-me-up. Also, I can’t afford to ply her with roses or expensive candy because three children. But she’s always welcome to sit down and watch football with her boys.

sleepless baby

“There now. Don’t cry. It’s a complicated sport. You’ll pick it up by and by.”

Grown-ups don’t play with toys; they have hobbies

We attended a Model Train Show. It was a huge pavilion filled with overgrown kids and their toy trains. It may offend some hobbyists to have their train sets called toys, but I’d feel dishonest calling them anything else. I had toy trains as a kid, and the trains I saw at the show look suspiciously familiar.

The show has a lot of people selling bits and pieces of train sets and associated toys, and a few people displaying the working sets they built. These sets are indeed impressive, with multiple tracks and detailed landscapes. They are far more elaborate than anything I dreamt of creating as a kid, because I was a kid and lacked the treasure and years necessary to amass such collections.

train watching

Imagine all the fights we could avoid at home if all his big brother’s play sets were enclosed in Plexiglas.

These kids, having invested many dollars and one lifetime, are seniors now. To be fair, some still cling to the edge of middle age. But there is a child left in all of them. They still get a joyful gleam in their eyes talking about trains. They are boys, owning the knowledge of age, surrounded by a toy store of their own making.

And who could be the mortal enemy of these men so innocent and childlike? Who could be the bane of these happy purveyors of toys?

Children.

Actual children – the ones not yet corrupted with knowledge of antiquity or the concern for monetary value – the ones inspired by the instinct that God endowed in them to reach out and touch a toy because it’s a toy.

“Don’t touch that!” I heard this shouted by more than one raspy voice at the train show. It made me sad, and not because it was yelled at my children. It was only said quietly to my children, by me, every 10 seconds. I wasn’t planning on buying a train, let alone a broken one.

But I wasn’t sad for the children who got yelled at. I was sad for the yellers. It made them seem less childlike and more childish.

It made me realize that, in this Little Boy Heaven, little boys weren’t welcome. The big boys were in charge, their love of trains tainted by a fondness for valuable objects.

watching the fire

Trains and fire trucks – the perfect storm of toys you are not allowed to play with.

My son wanted to buy a die-cast airplane for $140. One of the few financial joys of parenthood is opening your wallet wide, tipping it over, and letting your child see exactly zero dollars fall out.

“Ask the guy if he takes credit cards,” my boy suggested.

The boy didn’t understand that if I paid $140 for the plane, he’d never lay a finger on it. The only time he might see it is when we’d use it for our centerpiece at Thanksgiving dinner. It’d be one of our family’s most valued possessions. Valued possession aren’t for fun; they’re to worry about.

That is the difference between big children and little children. Little children don’t worry. They play. And toys get broken. And the future is still long and bright ahead. And life goes on.

 

 

A roundabout way of saying thank you

Laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns on Armistice Day, 1923. November 11 was renamed Veterans Day in 1954.

Laying a wreath at Arlington National Cemetery on Armistice Day, 1923. November 11 was renamed Veterans Day in 1954.

In the USA, Veterans Day is a chance to thank past and present members of the armed forces for their service to their country. It’s also an opportunity to recognize the veterans in one’s own family.

I have uncles who served in the military, but I don’t know much about when or where. I’m pretty sure my mother’s father was in the army, but I know nothing about his time there, and I can’t even really prove it.

The relative about whose army service I have the most knowledge is my father’s father. Yet, it would be somewhat awkward to thank him for fighting for American rights and freedoms; he was in the German Army.

My eldest son is fascinated by the fact that his great-grandfather was in the German Army. I’m not sure how his great-grandfather felt about it. When Kaiser Wilhelm’s men informed him that he was to be a soldier, I imagine him pointing out that there were millions of men to fight in France, but not nearly as many to milk his father’s cows. Nonetheless, he became a soldier.

After WWI, my grandfather emigrated to America. If I can’t thank him for his military service, I can thank him for this. It led to a much greater chance of me being born. And it led to me being an American.

My wife thinks I am a quintessential German, in my constant quest for order and efficiency, and my reticence toward hugging. Maybe that makes me the typical German-American, but I doubt I’d make a good German-German. For one thing, I don’t know if they get ESPN or the Big Ten Network in Germany. Soccer is fine, every four years, but I think Germans are expected to watch it more frequently.

I first began to suspect that I would never be a real German in my youthful travels, when I stayed at some youth hostels. It seems like there are always Germans at youth hostels. You can pick them out because they are the ones who enjoy staying at youth hostels.

To me, no arrangement could be more unpleasant than sleeping in a single room with 14 strangers and the residual grime of thousands more. The mere exhaust was enough to make me gag. Though I welcomed the chance to catch a glimpse of topless European girls sauntering through the halls, the communal aspect of everything made even that prospect not worth it.

I’m proud of my German heritage, but I am a rugged individualist American, only more squishy than rugged since my childhood on the farm. The lack of cows kicking you in the head will soften your rugged edges over time. I may still hug like a German, but I am truly American.

As an American, I join many millions of other grateful Americans in saying: to all the people, past and present, who have used your lives to serve and safeguard your country, Thank You. Happy Veterans Day.