Sunday, June 18, 2006

Father's Day and Today's Dad

We need Father’s Day more than our Dads did. They had it easy, reigning as constitutional monarchs, like the English royals (or in the case of my dad Tonga’s King Taufa’ahau Tupou IV). Dads performed ceremonial functions like carving the Thanksgiving turkey and frowning at the gutters every April. Every day was Father’s Day.

Today’s Dads are equal partners in childrearing. But we’ve been blindsided by the complexity of modern parenthood. It isn’t the big things, like the coarsening of American culture or our need for even toddlers to be over-achievers that make it harder. It is all the little improvements we have undertaken on behalf of health, safety, and education that complicate childrearing and sap the will of parents.

Things like:

Peanut butter allergy awareness
The primary sustenance of my childhood, is now a WMD (did we find some in Iraq, was it creamy or chunky?) Even the dust can be deadly and it is banned both from schools and under the Geneva Convention. Losing this fallback meal costs at least an extra hour a week trying to figure out what to give the children for lunch (add that up over ten years, it’s a fiscal quarter.)

Also, a little mouth full of peanut butter is a little mouth that is not singing the Teletubbies song or explaining the internecine power struggles at the sandbox. Hummus would work, but it gives kids garlic breath and contains deadly allergens like sesame oil. (Whatever happened to survival of the fittest?)

Quality Children’s Television
As a kid I watched “Bugs Bunny” and “Tom & Jerry.” These shows taught me an important lesson - the world is a violent random place and if I was out of line I could be flattened by an anvil. Then I would have to wait for Dad to get home and re-inflate me with a bicycle pump, and that wouldn’t happen till after dinner and I’d miss dessert.

Now children watch high-quality education shows like Franklin that teach valuable conflict resolution and problem solving skills. Children apply these skills frequently, when confronted with cauliflower, or clean-up time, or a bath. In his nightly bedtime filibusters my son has protested the unfair bedtime standard that is applied unequally in our house and pointed out that this may reflect my inadequacies as a parent. Maybe not in exactly those words, but that’s the gist of it.

Sometimes I imagine cartoon anvils smiting my little Senator.

Today’s children are never allowed out of sight
My mom would take us to the park and, pointing vaguely in the distance, command, “Go! Play!” She could also leave us in the car while running into stores. We can only dream of such ease.

This close proximity standard prevents creative discipline. As a pre-schooler I wouldn’t get dressed for school. After a week of threats, rewards, and brute force, mom let me miss the carpool and then got in the car and drove off. I was left alone, in my Gilligan underoos. When mom returned (she says she just drove around the block – I think she went to a matinee) I was dressed. I dressed promptly every morning afterwards (till college.) Of course if I tried that with my kids I would have to answer to child welfare authorities. (Ironically, my mom was a child welfare authority.)

Car Seats
Car seats save lives. They have also redefined parenthood. Just as dogs meet and sniff each other, parents meet and discuss car seats: which model, which safety features, and was there a deal (the other parents always got a deal, they will tell you about it in excruciating detail – that is how they establish that they are the Alpha couple.)

Putting children in carseats inappropriate to their weight and height can result in Federal prison time. But there are unwritten conventions that car seats also match the child’s somatotype (can a three year old be a mesomorph?), astrological sign, and aura. Failing to meet these transport needs will result in shunning.

Carseats turn carpooling into a complex logistics chain of transferring not only the children, but also the carseats. Moving children becomes one of those horrible math problems with 11 villagers and two canoes and getting them all across the river in the fewest trips.

These are only a few of the thousand cuts. I didn’t mention the awesome power of the Internet to instantaneously provide hundreds of terrifying anecdotes about horrible diseases your children could have or allow your wife to engage in vitriolic debates over baby formula with complete strangers.

We need Father’s Day. Let it be the one day a year where we celebrate the ancien regime, and live as our fathers did, ruling magnanimously from the barcalounger with a stiff drink in hand.


Unknown said...

Can a three year old be a mesomorph?

My 2 year old (and 4 months) is regularly mistaken for a 4 year old, due to his size. My wife thinks these people who make this mistake must think he's a demented 4 year old, as he still ACTS like a 2 year old.

The kid has proportionate size for his height, and no fat (that I can see). He's actually kind of muscular, particularly in the legs. Recently he started playing a game with my wife where will puch his stomach out, and then suck it right in. That's when we discovered that when he's not running around with the typical 2 year old potbelly, he has 6-pack abs!

I happen to be just a little flabby around my gut. Is it OK to be jealous of a 2 year old?

Anonymous said...

Doesn't the king of Tonga look suspiciously like James Earl Jones as King Jaffe Joffer in "Coming To America?"