Ahh Fathers Day. That annual day to offset the fact that most of the year we are just the surly man in the background yelling for quiet and some crap about getting the chores done. All over America men are unwrapping ties they will never wear and the 209th coffee cup to add to their collection and eating a breakfast cooked by some decidedly unculinary offspring. Later we will probably get to fire up the grill and grill some stuff and thank the heavens we are not Moms and so at least the dreaded brunch is not in the equation.
I am lucky in this regard. My kids are in their twenties and my stepdaughter is heading off with her dad today so I get to be taken out to eat crabs drink beer and hopefully watch the Orioles smack the Braves around the diamond. My wife and my kids are my three best friends on the planet so it’s going to be a pleasant day and I have a quasi-legal excuse to skip most chores. The little one has already started the day off with a pretty cool gift and card. Having a curmudgeonly ogre for a step dad is tough when you are a 9 year old princess but she makes the most of it.
One can’t help but think about the journey and adventure that is fatherhood on this day. I don’t give a shit if it is a Hallmark created day that exists to sell greeting cards, ugly ties and charcoal. It still makes me think to the past 28 years and all the steps, missteps, adventures and disasters that have led to this particular Father’s Day. It has been an interesting experience and worthy of reflection.
I never set out to be a Father. It was never high on my list of life’s priorities. Both my kids just sort of happened along the way. They frequently give thanks to Scotch for the miracle of their birth. I had no idea what I was doing and just sort of made it all up as I went along. I may not have set out to be Dad but I cannot imagine what my life would have been like if I wasn’t.
I can still, as I am sure most fathers can, recall the moments of my children’s respective births. To be clear I was not, and still am not, a huge fan of the whole father in the operating room bit. I was dragged from my mother’s heavily sedated body while my father sat in the waiting room chain smoking and nipping from a flask with other soon to be poppas and that’s a system that makes perfect sense to me. But I was there and the one single moment will stay with me forever.
Lisa came into the world screaming and making noise (this is no surprise to anyone that knows her. The child is just loud). She was born with a full head of hair and eyes that took up about half her face. She was making all kinds of bellicose noises right up until they scrubbed all the yuck off, wrapped her in a blanket and handed her to me. She stopped crying and those enormous eyes looked up at me with a look that said she knew me and was glad to be here. Of course she ruined the moment by taking a giant crap shortly thereafter and I had to change my first diaper before we could present her to the rest of the family in the waiting room.
Tommy ,on the other hand, didn’t cry at first. As the little Asian doctor lifted him up so the nurse could cut the cord he decided, like most guys after a long period of confinement that he needed to take a leak. He pissed all over the little doctor as a way of introducing himself to the world. That’s been pretty much his approach to life ever since.
I have been a divorced father pretty much most of their lives. Lisa was 6 and Tommy 2 when their mother and I split up. My perspective is perhaps not the same as one who lived in an Ozzie and Harriet family but is probably more the norm these days. I have learned a few lessons along the way and thought I would write them down while I was reflecting on fatherhood. They may or may not be of any value but it is too early to drink beer and the game does not start for several hours so this will help me pass the time. I don’t know how much of it is because of anything I did but my kids have turned out to be amazing. I hope I played at least a small part in that and that the lessons learned along the way have some value.
I always get a kick out of those who tell me that kids won’t change their life. Of course they will. You are not going to be taking the stroller to happy hour and kids are frowned up in casinos. You and Jr, are not going to hit the racetrack on Saturday or take in the symphony that night. Baseball games and war movies are going to be replaced by little damn purple dinosaurs, robots, princesses and other horrible little creations. Life is going to change more than you can possibly imagine. Don’t blame the kids however. It doesn’t matter if your offspring were procreated in a moment of candles and whispers or during wild monkey sex on the kitchen table after a drunken night at the dock bar. They are here now and your life is going to change. You made them and it’s your job to mold them.
It’s not always easy. We all have those nights where you come home after a shitty day. The market took a crap on your portfolio, you biggest client wants to know why they don’t own latest piece of shit.com and is talking about taking his account to Goldman Sucks. You firm made the front page of the WSJ and not in a good way. The SEC called and by the way the audit is tomorrow. You assistant discovered the joys of cocaine and disappeared with all copies of your presentation to the largest pension fund in the area. You just want to sit back drink some scotch, watch some mindless TV and forget the damn day.
Tough shit pal. The algebra has to get done and the whole concept of this damn solve for x thing is not penetrating your daughters brain. Your son has a report due on Tom Sawyer and wants to know if he can watch it on DVD instead of reading the book. They haven’t had dinner yet and unlike you they do not live on beer and leftovers from the diner. And by the way the pinewood derby race is this weekend and that block of wood on the table is probably not going to perform well with no wheels or decorations. You can relax some other time, say in 10 or 15 years.
There’s more to it that that I am afraid. If you are going to do this right they have to come first much of the time. That trip to the Keys is out of the question if it coincides with the little league tournament. That dream job in New York is going to be delayed if the ex has custody and lives in Peoria. That date with the hot chick you met at the bar will have to be cancelled if someone has a fever. You can still live your life but you will have to make choices and modification along the way. You made em, you raise them.
I have one key to raising kids that has served me well over the years. You have to love them. I don’t mean hugs and kisses and all that crap as nice as that is. You have to love them enough to tell them no early and often. No they cannot have jello and chips for breakfast. No they can’t say up to watch Charlie Sheens new show. No, they cannot leave the house dressed like that No, they cannot do their homework later. No they can’t go hang out at the mall with all the budding trailer trash and lounge lids from school. No they can’t take the car tonight.
You have to love them enough to be the bad guy. In my general experience Moms suck at being the bad guy. No matter what is going on with your ex or how much you wish she would run off to the far corners of hell with her biker tennis pro boyfriend she needs to be able to scare the shit our of your kids by threatening to call you. You need to love them enough to hop in the car and go over spank their little asses or ground them for eternity to whatever it takes to restore discipline. You and your ex can hate each other on your own time. When it comes to the kids you still have to fill the dad disciplinarian role.
You need to love them enough to let them fall and stumble. Mom can kiss their boo-boos. They are good at that. Unless there is vomiting or stitches involved dad needs to get them brushed off and back in the game. Teach to take the bumps of bruises of life and get back up. Its dads job to teach time how to overcome setbacks, that broken hearts don’t last forever and that pretty much everything can be overcome if you want it bad enough.
Love them enough to be an asshole. You know, the asshole that turns off the TV and kicks them outside on a nice day. The kind of asshole that puts passwords on the computer and won’t let them have an iPhone until they can pay of it themselves. Be the kind of absolute asshole who makes them contribute to their first car and pay their own insurance. Be the unbearable bastard who grounds them for anything less than honor roll. Be that dad who won’t let them read the cliff notes or watch the movie, the one who just doesn’t give a shit what Susie and Johnny s parents let them do. Set your standards and be enough of an asshole to hold your kids to them.
As they get older it gets tougher because you have to hold your own instincts in check enough to let them trust you. Your kids will experiment with sex, drugs and booze. They will make some incredibly stupid mistakes and questionable decision. In other words there is a very good chance that your teenagers will do the same type of stuff you did. If your kids trust you and can talk to you without a self-righteous angry response perhaps you will be able to guide them through these difficult years. If you’re as lucky as I was your kids will do only a fraction of the truly stupid shit you did at their age.
It is not all being the hard ass tough guy. You have to take time to play with your kids. Wrestle with them, tickle them until they pee. Take them outside and teach them to throw a baseball. Teach them chess and checkers. Go to all the little league games and dance recitals you possibly can because as big a pain in the ass as they are now they will be big memories for all of you later in life.
Fatherhood is not easy. It takes effort, concentration and balls the size of your average wild alligator wrestler. Some of the stuff you thought you wanted is going to have to be set aside. I have had to make a lot of choices and decisions over the years that would have been no brainers if I didn’t have kids. I do not regret a single one of them. The success of my kids and their happiness in life so far is proof that I made the right decision. As a result I am far happier with my own life.
When I look at my life so far I am more than satisfied with my legacy to date. I didn’t cure cancer; I am not the biggest hedge fund a manger in the entire world. I didn’t build any libraries or endow any foundations. I did play a part in bringing the world an honest hard working business man with integrity and a school teacher who is devoted to teaching your kids to read, to learn and to grow as individuals. Erin and I are working on bringing you a Pulitzer prize winning author who is also the world’s most famous fashion designer in her off hours. I have done much in my life but if my only achievement was my children I would be proud to stand on my record. That’s the secret of being a dad.
Now, I am off to stick the little shits with my bar bill for a change. Happy Fathers Day to all.