After we’re done inflating your ego, can I play a computer game?

Fathers are inherently selfish. We want our kids to like the stuff we like.

Mothers also have inherent traits, but I won’t go into that because those fall outside of my personal experience. Also, I don’t want to sleep on the couch tonight.

To a father, delight is seeing your child excited about one of your interests. With my oldest, this has been a win some, lose some proposition. He’s always been interested in geography and history, but not so much in reading or sports.

For a boy anticipating the 1st grade, he has good reading skills. Still, he hasn’t ever shown much joy at the prospect of reading. He’s clung to the standard “Reading is boring.” ideology common among boys.

So he wouldn’t lose ground over summer vacation, my wife took him to the library and signed him up for the summer reading program. He showed me the books he checked out. They share a single theme. We began with Weapons of the Civil War. He will likely be the only 1st grader in his school with the word Howitzer in his lexicon.

The unspecified prizes from the library program are of limited motivational value. What does motivate him is that we allow him time playing computer games after he reads. This is a win-win, since some of his games teach him things, like reading graphs, and all of them keep him quiet for an hour.

He’s begun asking to read. He’s politically astute enough to claim he wants to read so he can improve his skills, but we all know it’s so he can earn computer time. Either way, I’ll take it.

Like with reading, the boy never showed much interest in football or basketball. I don’t know why, but this summer he has been asking to play basketball with me. I’ve been meaning to fix our driveway backboard since we bought the house in 2005. Meanwhile, we play on a plastic kids’ hoop. Under the plastic hoop rules, the boy needs only dribble the ball when convenient and Daddy must stand clear whenever the boy announces his intention to shoot.

 

lay up

“Get your defense out of the way, I’m about to shoot.”

I was pleasantly surprised last week when he asked if we could watch a basketball game on TV together. There aren’t many basketball games on TV in summer, so we settled for the replay of a college football game from 1981. When Mommy called to see what we were up to, he told her, “We’re just watching a football game from when Daddy was 14.” We bet on who would win the game. I had the advantage, having been alive at the first playing. I got to spend time sharing one of my interests with my son, so I guess I won.

There’s no guarantee that my son’s new-found interests will last. I’m making the most of them while they’re fresh. We’ve got a library down the street, and that basketball hoop I’ve meant to fix for the past nine years – I ordered a replacement backboard today.

face rebound

In basketball vernacular, this is known as a face rebound.

At home with Don Quixote

About six months ago, I undertook a foolish endeavor. I began reading Don Quixote. I don’t say this was foolish because I believe Don Quixote is an unworthy piece of literature. It was foolish because no person with multiple, young children has any business opening up any book of 900+ pages with the expectation of getting to the end while still remembering the beginning.

Nonetheless, for a few months, I made good progress for a man in my condition. That is to say, I was able to read about 10 pages most nights, in the interval between the children going to bed and falling asleep myself. On nights when I enjoyed particular vim and vigor, I might put up to 12 pages behind me.

Quixote

He rides his lonely road, searching for someone who’ll read him, or at least someone willing to pay full price.

I kept up this breakneck pace until New Baby was born. At that point, I was nearly 600 pages in.

Don Quixote (the first 600 pages of it anyway) is the story of man so swept up in reading romance novels about knights-errant that he slips into the delusion of himself being one of those ancient heroes. He sets off in search of adventures and causes mischief wherever he wanders, believing he is capable of mammoth feats and that it is his duty to display his prowess to the world. Whenever reality seeps in to disrupt the narrative he has devised within his head, he explains away the discrepancy with the excuse that evil wizards have enchanted him and used their spells to belittle his grandiose visions into ordinary, everyday things.

New Baby is two months old now, and I am on page 614.

Oh, but I used to read! I used to be the Lancelot of reading, tearing through books and piling up their used bodies in book cases to the ceiling. I took on classics, even the torturous ones, with no fear, occasionally triumphing by finding one that turned out to be a classic. I was a warrior of words.

old days

A monument to those ancient days of spare time and disposable income.

You can watch TV while constantly changing the position of a crying baby in search of that one special pose that will settle him down. You can even play Farmville while rotating him. But it gets hard to read while juggling the kid from arm to arm. I’m catching up on all the TV programs I missed during my reading years. Thank goodness for reruns.

Meanwhile, Don Quixote stares down at me from the shelf. Once in a while, I notice this and I stare back at him. Every time, he looks more familiar, this man who deludes himself into thinking he can accomplish goals that are far beyond him. This man in the mirror.

My excuse is that I am enchanted. But my wizards are not evil. They are playful little goblins who vex my grand plans with a steady stream of wonderful, precious, ordinary, everyday things.

highway

Two modern-day enchanters out for a drive.

 

 

Beyond memories: a father’s legacy

One day last summer, I was driving home with my iPod plugged in when Bobby Goldsboro’s version of Watching Scotty Grow cued up.

Watching Scotty Grow was the first record I ever owned, given to me by my parents when I was three or four. It’s the perfect anthem for any father and son, but I was sure that this was a song about me. The pride in the singer’s voice symbolized how my dad felt, watching his Scotty grow, and it made me happy whenever I played it on my Mickey Mouse record player.

The song sometimes gives me a brief, pleasant flashback, but never anything deeper than that. Not until last summer.

On that summer afternoon, I was in the midst of a difficult month. I was under a lot of stress and had too many things playing on my mind.

Any one of 5,000 songs might have come next, but it was Bobby Goldsboro. His words threw me back to my childhood harder than ever before.

I flashed back to the morning, four years after I wore out the grooves on my first record, when I woke up to a house filled with crying siblings. My mother sat my little brother and I down on the couch, an arm around each. “Last night, Daddy got very sick, and he died,” she told us. She said more, but that’s all I remember. The next thing I remember was lying on my bed, staring at the wall. I have no recollection of what an eight-year-old thinks at such a time. Maybe we’re not supposed to hang on to those thoughts.

My memories of him are faded and frayed around the edges. Comparing these dim memories to the people his children grew to be, I know there is a gap in them. I recall the man who walked fast toward serious business so that the farm work would be done before the day ran out. I was too young to appreciate the humor and subtle tenderness for his family that lay beneath.

It occurred to me that my father wasn’t much older than I am now, the night he went to sleep and never woke up. There is so much left to do with my children. I want them to know who their father is, beyond the two dimensions of knowledge that distant memories give. My father certainly wanted that too, but his wish was cut short.

That’s when my grown-man blubbering began. I struggled against the tears as I considered the terrible fate of leaving children with only faded memories. I’m not sure if I wept over my own fears or for my father’s reality. Both, probably.

I’ve never wondered who I am, nor felt the need to go in search of myself. Perhaps this means I knew my father better than I remember. When I walk with a purposeful gait because things need doing, I am my father’s son. So too, when I laugh with my boys.

I composed myself before going into the house. I didn’t want my family see me like this. It would be better to spend this day smiling and laughing with them than crying over past events and future fears we couldn’t do much to change.

There are things, beyond memories, that a father gives his children. Sometimes, it takes the children many years to realize them. Lucky kids are given the capacity to always keep growing. I like to think my father is someplace where he can see how lucky I was – he and God watching Scotty grow.

the walk

On this Father’s Day, I wish all dads plenty more time to watch their children grow. 

Oh, how the mighty have fallen

My wife looks young. Helpful bystanders routinely step in to offer instruction to the poor, helpless, teen mother. It annoys her, which is why she was so tickled when it happened to me.

In the grocery store, we got a big cart for the boys to ride in and a little cart for our groceries. New Baby rode on top, in his car seat; the big boys shared the area below. Putting them into a cart together was setting them up for a cage match, but it was what they wanted and better than chasing them all over the store.

It’s crowded quarters in a shopping cart, so the fights came early and often. Since I couldn’t see over the car seat, the fighting noise reassured me they were in good health. I’m not sure how parents of well-behaved children have any peace of mind in such situations.

no room for groceries

Any quiet children will have to walk.

We were minding our own quarrels. An older lady, dressed in a colored sheet from the neck down, passed us in the aisle. I felt a tug at my arm.

The lady had a hold on me, in a completely un-grocery-store-like fashion. With her non-grabby hand she pointed toward the front of my cart. “He’s trying to poke the other one in the eye with that thing,” she informed me in the gravest of tones. “You might want to check on them.”

Statements that begin, “You might want to . . .” chafe me. That little injection of faux tact doesn’t temper the judgment.

“Oh, Jesus!” I thought, and possibly muttered. My wife, who was watching from the safety of the little cart, says I rolled my eyes at the lady, although I don’t remember this.

Really? You’ve never considered that if brothers this age meant to poke each other’s eyes out, they’d have done it by now?

I stepped around to look at the boys. Buster was holding the plastic clip of the toddler strap about six inches away from Big Brother’s face. I probably rolled my eyes again and proceeded as if I’d never been accosted.

Poking him in the eye, indeed! How did she know he wasn’t going for the teeth? Or the throat? She never raised boys if she thinks they’re that predictable. In this instance, the clip at the end of the toddler strap is known as leverage. You can’t effectively negotiate in such tight quarters without leverage.

It probably wouldn’t even hurt that much.

Having diffused a volatile situation, by ignoring the helpful intervention of a stranger, I looked for my wife. She was having difficulty following, due to a laughing fit making her struggle to remain on her feet.

Finally, catching up, and catching her breath, my wife recounted the splendor of my eye rolling at the lady. “Why didn’t you tell her you appreciated her concern?” she asked through her tears.

“Because I didn’t appreciate it.”

Thrilled that I had gotten a taste of the unwed, teen mother treatment, she pleaded, “You’ve got to write about this!”

Leaving the store, we saw our helpful stranger again. That includes the boys, because, against all odds, their eyes were still in their heads. The lady had set off the exit alarm and was explaining to an employee that she’d paid for everything.

“Oh, how the mighty have fallen,” I said to my wife.

“That’s the title of your post,” she replied.

And so it is.

driving

The old days of peace, love, and harmony.