“Exactly what kind of stupid shit have I gotten myself into this time?” I asked my father.
“Don’t worry, it only gets worse … er … better I mean,” he replied.
“Growing up I invariably figured the two of you knew inherently how to raise us, now I question my ability to survive even my pregnant wife’s wrath, much less an incessantly crying baby.”
“Funny you feel that way. Your mother and I raised you despite our ignorance and oddly enough I feel no more qualified now than I did more than twenty years ago.”
“Oh, thanks for that. You know what? I seriously doubt, based on your uplifting words here, that you truly are more qualified.”
“I love you too son,” said my father. “Now instead of concerning yourself with the future, start thinking about the here and now and get in there with your wife. It’s a right of passage and I’ll be damned if you get to skip out on this one!”
Immediately upon conclusion of my not so reassuring conversation with my father I somewhat less than bravely headed back to the room and my once lovely wife now overcome with fear, anger and most importantly rage at seemingly nothing but me. These memories of a day some seven years ago remain vivid in my mind. In fact, it’s amusing what a mind chooses to place into the vault and that which it seems to discard like some Sheik discards used Jaguars.
Regardless of what anyone might profess, whatever literature, scripture, propaganda or media might say, childbirth is not, by any means, a beautiful miracle. It is simply a function of biology, and certainly one of nature’s most awful and gut-wrenching sights to behold. I’ve rarely even for a second understood the parents who weave these intricate tales of how they’ve never before witnessed a more perfect baby and how eager to hold and caress “Johnny” they were the minute he breached the birth canal. Let me for a minute explain, for all of the delusional parents and more importantly for those who are easily manipulated by such tales, that childbirth is not remotely akin to the beauty of a bride on a wedding day, picturesque mountains covered with snow or a fantastic waterfall hidden deep in some jungle. It is certainly far more reminiscent of a triage base that exists in any “X-files” like movie where recently captured aliens are carved like the Christmas ham with a bit of grade B teenage horror movie screaming mixed in to accent the not so serene surroundings.
When I first witnessed my son, Owen, born into this troubled world, I felt a magnificent burst of love that Christ himself could not have invoked. Seconds later however, when the surprisingly slow neurons had traveled from my all too eager optic nerve to what I like to refer to as myself, my brain, a mere millimeters away, that love remained, capped with something new, shock. Thoughts will race through one’s mind in this situation: “Funny, my head isn’t twice as tall as it is wide,” or “What exactly is that nurse doing stitching up my wife … down there?” Luckily, for my own sanity these were intermingled like morse code within those of concern, fear, excitement and certainly, love. Suffice to say, the first day with my new child was not a picnic, a miracle, a wonderful package from god, the stork or any other freakish analogy that might be told to children and ignorant soon to be parents alike. It was however, the day that my life was drastically altered and along with the sickness and utter horror witnessed that day, I gained something new, a pride never experienced before. One that seems to multiply exponentially every week like an algorithm gone awry.
Most will tell you that children in their early years are an utter handful. Luckily for my wife and myself this was not the case with Owen. In fact, mere weeks after leaving the hospital we were sleeping nearly an entire night, something many families are devoid of for months if not years. Perhaps more importantly however than my now beautiful son’s penchant for nighttime silence was his daytime demeanor and willingness to learn, in his case siphon, as much knowledge as I could possibly bear to part with. Even before he had grasped a few meager words he was the proverbial hawk watching my every move and taking clues more often than not when least expected. Ever vigilant to the fact that I was under constant surveillance, my at home demeanor abruptly changed from college student/dock-worker to nearly angelic overnight. With ourselves safely on track, my most daunting task was to prevent Owen’s grandfather from one of his favorite past-times: teaching Owen large words in a creepy manner. Imagine my shock upon picking up my son at his grandparents house only to gaze stunned at my boy eagerly rubbing his tiny hands together in an evil manner and repeating over and over “My plans are coming to fruition.”
“Skip out on this one?” I said to my father. “If you know of any way I can achieve that at a point like this I’d love to know.”
“I can think of one way,” Dad replied. “Close your eyes for a second. I swear to you, if you do, you’ll notice the next thing happening is your child on a bike and that you’ve missed a year, then two.”
“Seriously, I knew you we’re getting a bit long in the tooth, but I never picked you for the nostalgic type. When exactly did you become the card carrying bleeding-heart kind?”
Nodding his head playfully with an arrogant hint of understanding that I had yet to grasp he said, “That’s exactly what I’m talking about. Don’t, for anything, miss the years when they haven’t yet figured out how to smart-off.”
Much to my dismay, my father was and is more correct than I could have ever imagined. Like a roulette wheel that races around barely fast enough to obscure the numbers, yet not so fast that you can’t with some small degree of difficulty make out what’s happening, my son was growing up at an alarming rate. His mother and myself, with all of our mistakes now resurrected and at the forefront of our minds, focused on molding our child to withhold the values that we maintained while having the courage to exercise his own individuality. Reminiscing back to the days when being a father terrified me, when instilling a sense of right and wrong in Owen, his mother and I at least attempted to teach him to hold himself with dignity and poise at all times; obeying the rules until they seem to conflict with some other moral standing. Obviously this wasn’t explained to him in such a manner, but likely through years of examples, lessons at home and luckily at school.
Due to the overwhelming maturity and good nature that my son had exhibited up until one fateful spring morning, my shock at that day hopefully is understandable. Owen for the last two years has been attending an esteemed private grade school; one that allows for hardly any deviation from their strict rules and expects as much from the families as the children, generally speaking. Certainly there are more than a few typical suburban gems that consist of a virtually ethereal father who passes in and out of his children’s lives between disgustingly profitable business trips only to spend the mandatory 15 minutes with a soccer-mom wife and unappreciated children before jutting off for the afternoon to an overpriced golf course with several other inconsiderate acquaintances.
Thankfully for these families an underpaid nanny gives at least some attention to the children, between hangovers and homeopathy classes. While most often their mother prescribes to the theory that two double-skinny-mocha-lattes with nutmeg in an afternoon at the local gourmet food store with her bo-tox friends is the way to raise a child. Owen, sometimes much to his own disgust, is by no means a valued member of one of those families. He is however an important part of ours, one that we can rely upon for at least an insightful thought and usually a couple good laughs a day.
Our tendency to be smitten with Owen is something shared by many who have the never-ending joy of his acquaintance. His school however, in accordance with the bureaucracy required by civilization, deems it necessary to establish a punishment doctrine related to something we’ve rarely experienced: bad behavior. This, put simply, is a system of colored cards ranging from yellow through red, with a few shades of orange that only a flamboyant interior designer would recognize, that are “pulled” in succession or in the extreme case of some dire transgression, the dreaded “red” card is pulled bypassing the usual stepped progression; a bad thing indeed. We prefer to, when Owen has the misfortune of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, liken a yellow card to DEFCON-5. While a red card, though inconceivable, would be DEFCON-1, or full scale nuclear war (at least within the confines of our modest home). As much as I would like my son to be, at least until college, some aberration of goodness, he does stray mildly from the line some refer to as the “straight and narrow.” But, when these situations do arise, they are typically mild and take the form of forgotten homework or lack of attentiveness in class, never, before this spring, were they of the kind we like to attribute to the “problem” children.
“I’ve pretty much figured that’s why you loved me so much, because of my rapier like wit and willingness to dissect even the most noble of your weakness’,” I said to my father. “In fact, I know that’s what draws me to you.”
“I loved you so much because you’re Mother made me,” Dad replied. “I liked you because you never wrecked my car.”
“Not that you know of I suppose,” winking as I said this. “It never did come to me though why you failed to ask obvious questions when issues did arise. Care to share any insight on this now?”
“What? And ruin the fun for the two of you, I think not.”
Then my father paused for a minute as if in some internal debate that could drastically effect the future of mankind. Oddly enough, a single piece of exactly that was at stake at this precise moment.
“Sometimes,” my father continued; “the best questions are those left unasked. When I knew that you we’re dealing with any problems in an upstanding manner I felt that my work was accomplished years before. What good is a question then?”
My wife called me at the office late in the afternoon minutes before I was leaving and began to share with me the details of Owen’s incident. While I was not by any means eager to hear the news, I begged her to wait at least another hour so that I could consider the full weight of his transgression in peace. When I arrived home from work that evening Owen’s pre-trial detainment was in effect and he was found reading meekly in his room. Unaccustomed to this environment I immediately spat a barrage of questions toward my wife, only to hear in return some flabbergasting news.
“Honey, Miss Finn called today about Owen’s behavior,” my wife began. “Apparently he received a red card and we might need to meet with the principal.”
Shocked, I replied. “Not that I can’t possibly believe that my son would do any wrong, but, I’m sure he didn’t do it, whatever it is.”
“I wish that we’re true, but I’ve asked him and he did admit to it, at least we have that much going for us.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” I continued. “I’m sure he’s heard that before, but I can’t possibly imagine, in school of all places, him ever even considering mouthing a word like shit.”
“Clearly both he and Miss Finn have told me that he said the “S” word. I think we truly have been blessed all of these years and that now the dam has burst.”
The worries of my day at work suddenly seemed insignificant compared to this new event. After all, my entire persona had been changed for my child. Though both of us used to have a certain affinity for cursing, that was discarded so many years ago. I’m by no means like my boy who seems to perpetually pick the correct path, even if he’s only in second grade, but at least in this aspect I’m largely infallible. Evidently, the crucial issue here is our realization that soon enough he will be surrounded with overwhelming amounts of temptation as he ages. I would prefer to hold on to some semblance of innocence at least through the second grade, hopefully up to the fourth, God willing. The trial was abrupt and to my son’s credit, he did admit his wrongdoing and professed he was simply angry at the ignorance of his school-mates concerning the blatantly obvious difference between a water poke’mon and an air poke’mon, stating that “air poke’mon’s were “S”.” Perhaps he’s been wound up tight lately, given his schedule of 7 hours of school followed by snacks, playing, naps, and more playing. I guess we should have assumed more responsibility in this matter, however, the jury found him mostly at fault and the sentencing was implemented immediately.
In the whole scheme of things this episode turned out to be nominally more than a speed-bump on my child’s path to adulthood. In fact, the grounding was short but the continuing education as to how to present himself was intensified drastically. It was only later, during one of those drawn out humid days of summer that my son taught me a lesson that apparently my father, in all of his wisdom, had never learned. As Owen and I watched an afternoon baseball game, each rooting for the other team though having virtually no investment in either, I was stung by the words suddenly emanating from my son’s mouth.
“Dad, why is it that adults can do and say things that children can’t?” My son said.
As I began my blanket argument, searching mentally for something I did or said recently that would invoke such a dreaded question, nothing came to mind. “We’ll, life’s that way I suppose, someday you’ll understand.”
“Maybe Mom should ground you for the week then and you’ll understand.”
“Perhaps that’s not such a bad idea, can I borrow your room?” I replied, frantically seeking that slip-up and cursing myself to be more aware around my boy.
“No, you constantly say the colors make you dizzy anyway,” he continued. “But, when I said the “S” word you told me that’s not how a gentleman speaks. Aren’t you a gentleman? Or are you a lady?” His snickering bought me precious time to recap the past few minutes and what had transpired, and for the life of me I couldn’t recall any such regression in my “don’t speak like a sailor” policy.
“If I did say that I do apologize, however, I think you’re mistaking, perhaps you misunderstood me,” I said.
“No sir, you said it, and I’m telling Mom.”
By now my curiosity had been piqued to a point where I could no longer deny this incident in a Clinton-esque manner. I had to pursue this matter, even though I figured at this juncture it meant certain embarrassment, at the time I thought for my child.
“What exactly did I say that you profess you can’t?”
“I told you, you said the “S” word and I can’t repeat it, you said so yourself.”
“I seriously doubt that. You’ve never heard me say that word. In fact, if I recall correctly you’re the only one in this household who seems to utter that phrase.” I was beginning to worry now that perhaps there was a point of confusion that I didn’t understand. On some deeper level I was also worried that my son had started to “smart-off” to me; thus the end to the glory years.
“Maybe you can spell this word for me, so that I know and will never repeat it again,” I said.
“I don’t think that would be a fruitful thing to do, Dad,” Owen said. “But since you’re the boss of me, at least until Mom comes home, I will.”
My worst fears we’re confirmed at this moment, he had prematurely reached the age of self-awareness and independence. Surly, I thought, this must be some god-awful twisted plan implanted into his brain by my mischievous father. As I prepared for the next daunting step in my life, dealing with an individual who was not simply repeating what he was shown and instructed like a cheap pet-store parrot, but one capable of reasonable logical connections and more terrifyingly one that was good at such things, my son began his personal spelling lesson for Daddy.
Owen of course began with the letter “S.” I, on one level had previously assumed the outcome and was coming to terms with the peculiar cleverness of my child, in addition to my inability to see through his weak scam, yet I let him continue.
“t … u … p … i … d.”
“Most importantly, son, you must listen to your children, especially as they grow,” my father said.
“Yeah, yeah, I figured that. I can only assume that’s why you told me to shut the hell up so often,” I replied.
“I also said distinctly, over and over, to do as I say, not as I do.”
In retrospect, these words ring true often to me. I can’t possibly expect to be father of the year anytime soon. I can however learn from my mistakes and hopefully my son in turn will heed his grandfather’s sage-like advice.