Sunday, July 27, 2014

Finding a Historic Gem with GoofGirl: Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum

Before she went off to camp GoofGirl wanted an adventure. Her brother and I had gone to an Orioles game the week before. Now it was her turn.

She asked about, "A walk where there was a lot of history."

She's very much my daughter!

"Like a battlefield?" I asked, hopefully.



"Well there are three wars that have been fought around here, the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, and the War of 1812. Pick one."

"War of 1812, but not Fort McHenry, I've already been there."

So I did some research and found Jefferson Patterson Park and Museum. A War of 1812 skirmish was fought there. But that's not all. There was a Native American village, a colonial settlement, an elegant estate from the 1930s, of the Chesapeake Bay shoreline, and a working archeological dig.

How had I, a native Marylander who is always looking for interesting things to do and is obsessed with history, not known about such an incredible place!

I began plotting:
If we left at 6am, we'd get there at 8 and we could sneak in before it opened and see the native American village and maybe some of the archaeological digs. Then we'd catch the first round of the historic re-enactment and then have time to see the Patterson Estate. We could catch another round of the re-enactment, and have time visit some of the exhibits.
GoofGirl was looking forward to it, but was perhaps not quite as excited as I was. As is often the case when dealing with me, she had to be the adult: "Daddy, we don't have to see everything. We can go back another time."

And we couldn't see everything, because the day we were going was also a re-enactment, part of the celebrations for the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812 (which was mostly fought in 1814.)

It was crowded and we didn't get a good view of the naval skirmish, although we saw the cannons firing. We had a nice time walking through the market looking at handcrafted products inspired by their early 19th century counterparts. Fascinated by the toiletriesof two centuries ago, GoofGirl lingered.

Then there was a re-enactment of the land battle, which I watched with utter fascination. For GoofGirl, a little of this sort of thing goes a long way.

Then, in the huge crowd, we happened to run into one of the staff archaeologists. Naturally, I peppered her with questions. To my delight, GoofGirl had a great many as well!

“What kinds of things do you find?”

“What do you learn about the people who used to live here?”

“Do you match the artifacts with records from the archives?”

“What’s a good day for you?”

And so on.

Eventually, we freed her. But we agreed that we’d have to come back for one of the days when the public can join in on the digging.

Then, as things were winding down, we explored the Native American village. The park was closing. GoofGirl took me by the hand and said, "OK Daddy, this was really interesting, but I think we've seen enough for one day. Let's go home. You've been good, so I'll let you listen to NPR on the drive back."

Friday, July 04, 2014

Free at last! Free at last! Father Goof is free at last!

The little Goofs are at sleep-away camp and Mama Goof is in Los Angeles on family business. So this 4th of July Father Goof is celebrating his freedom.

Freedom from carpool, laundry, constant requests to purchase apps, and cries of boredom when electronics are banned.

And what am I doing to celebrate this freedom?

Whatever I want!
  • Leaving newspapers on the dining room table!
  • Leaving the toilet seat up!
  • When I bring stuff into the house, I just put it down in the foyer and put it away when I am good and ready!
  • And, best of all, I can eat whenever I want!

Not whatever I want – I’m a grown-up, if I want to go eat chips just before bed or cookies for breakfast, who is going to stop me? Besides of course my own neuroses that said cookies will go straight to my hips.

But to eat when I want, ah now that’s freedom.

I’m a good parent, so when the little Goofs are home, we have family dinner, whether I am hungry or not. But now, a late, late lunch and a super late dinner on the couch watching Family Guy re-runs – if that isn’t pursuit of happiness, I don’t know what is.

Is my use of freedom kind of pathetic? Maybe, who cares? As one ages one learns to set the bar low. What should I be doing? Engaging in picaresque adventures through the Washington suburbs? Going to strange dives, meeting colorful rogues and brawling and carousing with them? Do you know me? I don’t do these things. Even in my youthful adventurous drives cross-country I stayed in Holiday Inns because I liked the breakfast muffins.

What I could be doing is meeting up with old friends for dinner and drinks. But for the most part, their kids haven’t gone away and they continue to labor under the tyrannical yoke of parenthood. 

The revolution has only just begun, no dad is free until we all are free.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Father's Day Demotion

FatherGoof has not been blogging much because he's been occupied with some real life stuff as well as some kid stuff (more on that anon). But Father's Day seems as good a time as any to get back to telling the world about my adventures in parenting.

Also, Father's Day made me think of a concept that crops up in my research on the Presidency - what renown scholar Richard Neustadt calls the shift from leader to clerk. Basically, since FDR Presidents have been a lot more powerful, but they are also expected to do something about everything. Before FDR, Presidents had a great deal more leeway to pick their areas of intervention (Coolidge famously took a nap every afternoon and believed most problems took care of themselves.) Before FDR the President had the option of exercising leadership. Now the option is gone and the President is expected to lead on everything. So while the President is more powerful now, he is really just a clerk rushing around serving everyone who demands his attention.

I thought of this on Father's Day as the day unfolded. My preference would have been to sleep in, workout, have beers with lunch and loaf - dealing with as little of anything as possible. But that isn't how things played out. GoofBoy wanted to take me to an Orioles game, and my family treated me to a big French toast breakfast this morning (bloated with French toast, unsurprisingly I did not workout). These are all good things, and I don't want to sound ungrateful, but they were not what I wanted. (My kids get plenty of my time on their terms, so Father's Day as a day off from parenting is a perfectly reasonable expectation.)

Of course, Dads get big breakfasts on Father's Day, so I had to have a big breakfast. Dads take their kids to ballgames for quality father-son time. So I took my son to the ballgame. (Yes, he proudly bought the tickets with his Bar Mitzvah swag. But I drove and had to manage the logistics.)

And that's the difference. As Dad, it has been my pleasure to take my son to baseball games (at my convenience) but now it is an obligation. Declaring that I want a giant French toast breakfast was my prerogative.  Now it is thrust upon me, as a virtual requirement. It brings the Leader/Clerk dichotomy home. Matters of discretion have now become duties. When I could generate the specials and surprises, I was DAD master of fun and adventure. Now I am but a driver on a pre-set itinerary. So if for presidents it has been a shift from Leader to Clerk, for me as dad it has been a shift from Shepherd to Chauffeur.

On the other hand, it was fedora day at Camden Yards, and I got this Oriole colored fedora and that's pretty cool.

Monday, April 07, 2014

Canceling Friday Night Fights

Wrestling, whacking, and battling are big parts of life here at GoofManor. According to academic literature, wrestling, or "kinetic play" is good for children.

Friday night, full of sugar (and in my case wine) is the Battle Royale. For years now, after the food is eaten, the wine is drunk, and the plates are cleared GoofBoy and I square off. He's faster, more aggressive, and better skilled. I however, am a full-grown adult. So after a little sparring, I grab him, drop him on the floor and sit on him. He would promise to get me next time and I would kiss his face and say, "Sure think buddy."

Except he's getting big, strong, and at 12 he's full of he's full of rage and his limbic system restrains him like cheesecloth holding back an Amtrak Metroliner.

It isn't that he can beat me (although that's coming!) It's that when I pin him down, I can't hold him so easy and I'm afraid if I apply the needed pressure I could really hurt him. Also if he gets in a lucky shot he could really hurt me!

Every time she sees us wrestle, MamaGoof shouts at us to stop, convinced one of us is going to get hurt. This has been going on for years and neither of us is worse for the wear. It doesn't help MamaGoof's concerns that GoofBoy's face turns bright red at the slightest exertion, so he looks like he's furious and overwrought when he's just playing.

But as GoofBoy gets stronger, the possibility of her warnings proving prophetic becomes greater. I really, really don't want her to be right (about this at least, she's right about most other things). Because if she is, I'll never live it down. And that will hurt more than GoofBoy's pummels.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Monsters University Weltanshauung

So I caught the movie Monsters University with the little Goofs not long ago. Unsurprisingly, they loved it. It is a movie made by geniuses who apply all of their brainpower to amusing children the age of the little Goofs - and they are pretty amused throwing rocks into water. So kind of a no-brainer.

I, however, was completely creeped out - and not because I am afraid of monsters (I mean, I am, but beyond that.) Monsters University is the sequel to Monsters Inc. My problem is that the prequel presented just a slender part of the Monster world.  But in Monsters University we saw far more of their world and that bugged me.

The fundamental conceit of the movie is that the Monster world derives its power from the screams of human children. But how would the monsters have ever figured this out? In the movie the monsters have all kinds of complex technology and seem to have a pretty complicated society. We even meet monsters who are not involved with the energy generation/child scaring industry.

So what kind of society is it? It is powered by a very specific, kind of strange energy source. Well, they are monsters, so that kind of creepiness doesn't bother them - scaring children is kind of what they do.  But wait, if that's what monsters do, why don't they just all focus on scaring children?  Why did they bother to develop a sophisticated society with universities, technology and government (including a secret police force known as the Child Detection Agency.)  The monsters who don't scare children (apparently the vast majority), do they somehow feel left out?  Are there protest movements to allow public access to doors from which to frighten human children?

Or are monsters like us, and it is just a small number who have the talent and inclination to frighten children? Then I need to know what is the rest of the society like?  We only see the pragmatic technocrats involved in the monster energy industry.  But what kind of cosmology and theology would this society develop?  Would they worship humans?  Wouldn't they wonder about the creation of a universe in which they could reach across dimensions, frighten the children of another species and obtain power for their civilization?

And what about the the human world, have they no interest in it? No questions, no desire to develop deeper more cooperative relations?

Maybe at some point the monsters had other sources of power, but these alternatives caused pollution or cancer or something.  The political leadership of the Monster society determined that this is a strange way to develop power, but it beat the alternatives.  Of course, in Monster politics, as in ours, nothing ever comes without a cost. The creation of an elite caste of dimension-hopping professional scarers must have a strange distorting effect on the society and its worldview - an effect that they stop even realizing after a time as they luxuriated in their cheap source of energy...


Told you, Monsters University really creeped me out.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Learning with GoofGirl


"What nina?"

"I shouldn't say this..."

"What is it? Did something happen at school?  Is someone being mean to you? Are you worried about something?"

"No, I don't want to say it now."

"You can't do that, now I'm worried. You know you can tell me anything. But, if you really don't want to tell me I understand."


"Daddy, sometimes I wish you weren't may dad."

But I'm a great dad, she always says me that! She even put it in writing.

"But I'm a great dad, you always say that. You even put it in writing!"

"I knew I shouldn't have said anything"

"No, please nina, you can tell me. I'm not upset."

I am upset, but I'm the grown-up here.

"Well Daddy,  you know how we're studying the industrial era. We had to write something we'd like to learn about it. And I couldn't think of anything because you've already told me so much about it."

"Oh no nina, the industrial revolution is awesome. We've barely started to learn about it.  There are all the different machines and the way they changed people's lives.  There were new political movements.  Tomorrow, write down that you want to learn about Samuel Gompers.  His name is Gompers, so he has to be fun to learn about."


"Samuel Gompers was interesting because... wait, I don't want to spoil it."

"...that's why I didn't want to say anything. Because whenever I tell you about something bothering me you start telling me what to do."

"Oh right. I'm supposed to just listen and agree with you."


"Nina, I understand but sometimes I forget that.  Can I tell you something useful to know - boys have a lot of trouble with that.  See boys are from Mars and girls are from Venus..."

"But Daddy, I don't believe you came from Mars - you're from Uranus!"

Well done, Nina, well done.