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How to Be a Father: Who Knew?
Father’s Day is almost here, that day when we honor a guy who probably stumbled onto the role without fully understanding what he was getting himself into.
When I was a kid, none of my pals expressed the slightest interest in becoming a dad. We wanted to be bandits or privateers or hedge fund managers. Nobody said, “When I grow up, I want to father children!” Maybe this was because we were surrounded by children and could see how messy and noisy they can be.
Fatherly cluelessness begins at the beginning. The entire gestation process is outside of the father’s experience. How can a guy empathize with the cramping, the nausea, having your bladder capacity reduced to that of a peanut and feeling as bloated as a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade balloon?
Some fathers claim to have felt sympathetic gestational discomfort during their wives’ pregnancies. Oh, please. The only way to truly empathize with the feeling of being extremely pregnant is to endure all of the symptoms for yourself. Experience has taught me that this can be achieved by consuming multiple bowls of super-hot chili and washing it down with several ice-cold brewskis.
Guys, generally speaking, probably shouldn’t be parents. If anything, we are anti-parents. We are the ones who show our kids the Pull My Finger trick. We’re the ones who teach our offspring how to go potty outdoors.
When our two sons were youngsters, I overheard my wife catching up with an old acquaintance of hers.
“How many children do you have?” asked the acquaintance.
“I have three boys,” replied my wife.
Looking a bit confused, the acquaintance said, “But I only see your two sons.”
“That’s right,” said my wife, “I have three boys: our two sons and their father.”
Sadly, I had no arguments to counter this assessment. For example, when our sons were grade-schoolers, it somehow became my job to put them to bed at night. It somehow became a habit to help them wind down by reading a story to them. The bedtime prose I chose included such lofty literary fare as Calvin and Hobbes or a hilarious tall tale by the outdoor writer Patrick F. McManus.
If none of these resources were at hand, I would improvise by “doing Monkey.” This activity involved a toy stuffed monkey whom I sent on comic imaginary adventures that often involved such things as Monkey picking his nose after playing with superglue or Monkey gobbling a gallon of baked beans and washing them down with a quart of nitroglycerin.
The boys’ bedroom would fill with giggles and pleas of, “Do it again! Do more Monkey!”
My wife would appear at the bedroom door and admonish, “You’re supposed to be settling them down, not firing them up!”
She was right, of course. So I would “do Monkey” once or twice more, then tell our tittering boys that they had better get to sleep or else. I had no idea what the “or else” might be. Thankfully, I was never called on it.
There are times when being a father who is also a guy can be a good thing. For instance, one summer day I came home for a noontime meal and found my wife grimly waving a broom and a dustpan at the refrigerator. Our two young sons were standing on kitchen chairs, a look of panic pinching their faces.
“Thank God you’re here!” proclaimed my wife. Using the tone of voice of someone who’d recently had an encounter with Beelzebub, she pointed at the fridge and said, “We just saw a humungous snake go behind the refrigerator!”
I muscled the appliance from its resting place. And there, coiled in a corner, glaring at me with his unblinking eyes and flicking his bifurcated tongue was… pharma bro Martin Shkreli!
No, it was actually just a little baby garter snake. I’ve seen bigger night crawlers.
Drawing on my vast experience of being a guy, I swiftly caught the trespassing serpent. I showed it to our sons, who were soon petting the reptile and admiring its dry yet somehow slippery skin. All the while, my wife stood at the far side of the kitchen exclaiming, “Get that yucky thing out of my house!”
So we carried the snake to the edge of our farmstead and released it in some tall grass. And since we were there, we took the opportunity to go potty outdoors.
As a kid, I could have never imagined performing such dad-like duties. And it’s further proof that many guys, including me, are totally winging it when it comes to playing our role as father.
Jerry’s book, Dear County Agent Guy, is available at Workman.com and in bookstores nationwide.