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Notes On Fatherhood

I Don’t Know’s On Third

First baseball game of the season. Machine pitch for the 9-year-old boys means a high scoring, high action game. Bottom of the 5th. Catcher is setting into place. First batter taking practice swings. My son’s team is in the field, facing the plate, knees bent, still and ready. My son is at third base. And he is dancing.

He’s not literally moving rhythmically to music in his head. He is practicing. Mimicking what he will do when the batter grounds to third. He will catch the ball and throw to first. But he is not putting his glove in the dirt and then pretending to throw to first. He is darting his glove straight out in front of him and then whipping a straight side-arm motion with his other arm. So it looks like ‘glove out ‘stop!’ gesture, hop, other arm swing around with a sideways hip twist.’ Once and again, once and again. As if in rhythm.

He may not be the best player on the team, and by a lot. But I do not care. Really I don’t. Picture the most obnoxious and demanding dad yelling at his son to crush his enemies, and I am the polar opposite of that. I want him to have fun, to be a good sport. All I ask of him is that he tries – that he shows the other boys, the coach, that he’s doing his best. He is a nice boy. A gentle boy. And to be his father is pleasure in its purest form. He does not insult the other team. He does not make excrement jokes in the dugout. He sometimes even tries to chat with opposing players when on base.

At this moment, I know he’s nervous. He is terrified of the ball in general, and he loves to play right field because he sees almost no action there. But the rules say that each boy must play at least one inning in the infield. And so here he is in the 5th at third base. His practice tells me he is nervous. But he wants to show the other boys that he is ready. That this is what he will do with speed and fury when called upon to do so. He wants to show he’s got the moves down. And so he is dancing.

The inning begins. He plays toward shortstop, as coached. He runs to his base and turns with his glove out to catch a throw, every play, whether a runner is on second or not. For, that is the third baseman’s job. Then, there is a force play at third. I speak up from the dugout, “Marco! Force play at third! Marco!” He notices me. “Force play at third!” He nods with surety. As if he knows what I mean. I so very much hope he knows what I mean. The coach yells “Marco, if you get the ball, step on third base!” He nods again. I am not reassured.

Then a solid hit to third. Ground ball, one bounce, coming at him hard. I know he will raise his glove, side-step, and leave the retrieval to the fielder. And he does not catch the ball, but he uses the back of his glove to knock the ball to the ground. And it works. He has stopped the ball. Parents cheer. The coach yells ‘good job, Marco! You kept a single from becoming a double!” My son nods again. As if he knows. He did not catch the ball. He did not step on third. But he acted. He tried. And I could not be more proud.

Next inning, bottom of the 6th, he is happily back in right field, behind first base. I look over toward him and realize I must position myself where he can hear me without having to yell so loudly that everyone notices, because he is standing out there, his glove on his head like a hat, karate punching the air.

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Notes On Fatherhood

Stupid Plus Unwelcome Equals Me

While helping my 3rd grade son with his homework, I have learned some very basic dos and don’ts that I would like to share, which may help you to keep from losing your temper in five seconds. But they likely will not help, as they have all only failed me so far.

First, do not let him eat a snack, or his pencil, when he’s supposed to be thinking. Food is a distraction, and their stains on his paper have got to make you look bad in the eyes of his teacher. And a pencil is, simply put, not food. Not even the eraser part. I did once witness my brother’s huge dog poop out a large portion of a red Nerf football, which I would liken to a horrifying neon cherry ice cream. I apologize for the image, but my point is that I am fairly certain a tiny bit of eraser would not do my son any real harm. Especially after living through his baby years with all the bits of bright and happy crayon colors we would occasionally find in his diaper. But hopefully, with my son, I will not have to resort to actual chew toys as redirection.

Also, you will quickly learn to distinguish between his ‘I’m thinking’ face and his ‘I’m pretending to be thinking’ face, which he will use as a way to stall, to finish up a daydream, or to just try to get that pencil back in his mouth. The biggest hint that he is pretending to be thinking is his actual voicing of “umm,” when it sounds staged, as if ‘this is the noise a person makes whilst thinking, and so I, therefore, must no doubt, at this moment, be thinking,’ while tapping the pencil eraser part against his cheek, stepping ever closer, back toward his mouth.

Also, do not allow stuffed animals at the table. They will arrive under the guise of friends who offer moral support, a cheering squad for his efforts, but they are really only there to act as puppets that he will animate to voice his own criticism of your work ethic and methodology.

Next, be emotionally prepared for him to use his teacher against you, immediately and constantly. “She does it this way.” “She said we didn’t have to do that.” My son is a good boy and he is only trying to make his life easier, which I can understand and appreciate, but he is full of crap and lying straight to my face. Performing basic math and spelling homework with parents is how children learn to debate. And lie and cheat. And probably steal.

Most importantly, keep in mind that his academic level is at a point where you are still likely able to help him with minimal preparation on your part. And if not, it’s still possible to fake it at this stage, and pretend to know an answer before you have actually figured it out in your head. Just stall. “Do you know the answer? Can you figure it out? Think for a minute. Get the pencil away from your face, please.” This should buy you the time you need to arrive at the answer. Unless you are my wife. She is a brilliant business strategist, but putting a two-digit number over another two-digit number and combining or separating them to produce a solution requires either the part of the Rosetta Stone that is still missing, or Dad. And Dad is not, as yet, missing.

And when my son does reach the academic level at which I cannot help him without studying ahead of time myself, I will without a doubt fail with catastrophic totality. And thus will begin the ‘Dad is stupid’ phase of my life, which should only last until I am dead.

Even with these early challenges, I still have grand designs for helping him with his homework in the future, as his studies advance. I fully hope to obtain copies of his text books, communicate with his various teachers, read ahead, and ready myself for any and all intellectual challenges posed by, say, 4th grade. And I have already received some crystal clear signals from his teachers that they would be happy to hear from me, but maybe not more than once, maybe twice. Better, though, to be a teacher’s bane than my son’s idiot father, though I will no doubt become both. When his teacher replies to a simple ‘how should he show his work?’ e-mail with phrases like ‘reform mathematical pedagogy,’ I know I’m fast approaching ‘stupid and unwelcome,’ and accelerating at a rate which I will never be able to compute.

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Notes On Fatherhood

My Seven-Year-Old Son And Me, Building Our First Birdhouse Together

A Project I’d been Dreaming Of Since I Found Out I Was Having A Boy

(Basement workroom, work bench, basic tools)

“Okay, my boy. Here we go. I know you’ve been waiting a long time to do this, and you’re finally a big enough boy to use a hammer. But be very careful, and don’t do anything unless I say so first, Okay?”

(I point to his drawing of a birdhouse, our ‘blueprint,’ all crayon, ridiculous, not a single right angle, and hovering unattached in the sky. The scene is complete with a bird family, a cloud, and a sun so huge it would roast the Earth at that distance. His scale would make the birdhouse about the size of a small school.)

“Let’s start with the walls. We can see if we have some wood that would be the right dimensions for us to use.”

(I had spent a few hours over the previous days cutting wood to the proper sizes, so that we would have minimal cutting before assembly. We would make a few short, easy cuts, mostly for show, and then we would hammer the living crap out of the wood, and hopefully have enough uncrushed material left over to actually house a bird.)

“Okay, look over the wood pile and… where are you? Where did you go?”

(He is nowhere in sight and does not answer.)

“Marco?” (His actual name, not the ‘where are you’ game.)

“Marco!”

(He has found a box of toys he has outgrown, but now finds himself re-enamored and unable to part with them.)

“We can talk about maybe not giving these away later. We have to do our building today, so let’s please get back to work. We have to work and focus if we want to do the job right. So come on back. Come on. Let’s go, buddy.”

(Back at the woodpile, with the precut pieces all stacked neatly on top.)

“Do you see any that are about one foot square? No? Are you sure? Look again. Right on top there. Use your ruler. That one on top looks to be about right. Just hand me those top few pieces. I’m pretty sure they’ll work. Just hand them to me please. Just… I’ll help you.”

“Well, I do think they’ll work just fine. Can you measure them? Just hold the ruler. Just hold… just… the ruler. Where’s the ruler?”

(Two minutes of looking for the ruler, no luck.  Then a snack, a pee (him), and some action figures, and we’re back at it in about a half-hour.)

“Okay. Let’s get these boards together and get this done. Hold this piece. Just hold it still. Just… no, it’s not an airplane. Yes, if you hold it sideways and wag it around it can be kind of like an airplane, but right now we need it to be a birdhouse wall. Just hand it to me.”

“Those are dowels. Yes, they look very much like swords. We’re not sword fighting right now. We can sword fight with your foam swords when we’re done here. Don’t… just for a minute. I’ll get started.”

“No, I’m not going to sword fight with you yet, so please stop poking me. I’m using tools. They’re pretty cool tools if you want to… ”

“Yes, just go ahead and sword fight in the other room.”

(20 minutes later. He’s started a DVD upstairs.)

“Do want to help? Marco? Come on back down, buddy.”

“Yes, that’s good singing. I like that song. You sure sing it a whole lot.”

(20 more minutes later, one finished birdhouse, very basic, box design, no entrance hole.)

“Where are you, Buddy?! Come look at our birdhouse!”

(He comes down the stairs)

“Good job, buddy. Go show Mommy what you did.”

“No, we’re not going to paint it today. I think you’ll be painting it with your mother.”

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News Headlines

  • A 5.8 magnitude earthquake struck Turkey on Saturday. The temors caused a several moments of calm as people knew that nobody can shoot at each other accurately for those few precious seconds.
  • A federal judge ruled that the NSA gathering of telephone data is legal, saying in his brief, “look, man, I don’t want any trouble.”
  • A large gang of teenagers stormed a shopping mall in Brooklyn, causing chaos, fear and damage. Mall officials could only disperse the teens after making them realize that Brooklyn is not in New Jersey.
  • A group of penguins at a zoo in Korea were dressed in Santa costumes, to the delight of young and old. Young and old people, that is. The penguins seemed   indifferent and at times mildly annoyed for some reason.
  • The AARP has released a list of 22 activities people should never do again after turning 50, like going roller skating or doing a split. They cut the original list down because #23 is not to waste any of the precious little time you have left reading a list that is one thousand items long.

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News Headlines

  • Mike Tyson is still in what he calls the toughest fight of his life – being a responsible adult. His problem primarily stems from the fact that he keeps trying punch responsibility in the face, bite it, and run it over with his car.
  • A group of Americans was airlifted out of South Sudan because that’s how Americans leave Africa.
  • An American man was sentenced to one year in prison in the United Arab Emirates for making a parody video of that nation’s teen culture. Meanwhile in America, Gallagher is still walking around a free man.
  • Dennis Rodman says he’s left North Korea without ever seeing Kim Jong Un. Actually, he did see him, but the guy is just so tiny.
  • Over 1200 packets of heroin found in Massachusetts were labeled ‘Obama Care.’ Fox News is calling the story ‘a Christmas miracle,’ adding, “No, not a Holiday miracle. There’s no such thing as a Holiday miracle. It’s a Christmas miracle. And by that, yes, we mean literal intervention by God.”

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News Headlines

  • A judge in Utah has overturned that state’s ban on gay marriage, causing a rush of marriage license applications at the county clerk’s office, and enraging opponents, who say no government building should be fabulous.
  • Mike Tyson, at 47, says he’s facing the greatest fight of his life, which is ‘being responsible.’ Executives at Pay Per View Fights expect very low viewer sales.
  • A group is suing California over a new transgender bathroom law. The group says no such bathroom can exist because the stencil illustration of the person on the door would be impossible to identify.
  • Britain has spent 44 million dollars revamping Stonehenge. The monument is now surrounded by a more natural, original environment. Upon hearing of the upgrades, American tourists arrived, wondering where the roller coaster and iMax theater are.
  • Here are some rules to follow when giving gifts at the office. Rule #1 is ‘sexy underwear is a bad idea.’ Rule #2 is ‘joke, novelty underwear is also bad.’

 

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News Headlines

  • North Korea has sent an ‘order for merciless treatment’ to South Korea via fax. But the paper was all curled and the ink was smudged and they  could have just been sending an ‘order for more toner ink’ to the wrong number.
  • Dennis Rodman has returned to North Korea, in what is now believed to be the result of a long series of wrongly sent faxes.
  • Blackberry has announced 4.4 billion dollars in losses. Company executives said they were just happy to have Blackberry mentioned in the news.
  • Google has purchased a company that makes military robots, strengthening the position that Google is really a self-aware computer that we will soon all be running from.
  • A new government bill would require cell phones to have a ‘kill switch.’ As soon as the bill is enacted, if a person is suspected of disobeying Google, their cell phone will kill them.

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