Thursday, December 21, 2006

Differences of Degrees and Kinds

Father Goof has been offline for a bit. First there was the year-end at work, and then Father Goof was hit by the Martian Death Flu. At its peak, Father Goof ran a temperature of 104. Apparently that is very bad for adults (could result in brain damage - although I ran a system check, I still remember the 1979 World Series Lineups). When the fever finally broke and went down to 102 I felt terrific. I wish I had dragged myself into the HMO when my fever was at its peak – then I could have won the daily jackpot. I went too late and got nothing while my feverish son at least got a sticker.

We’ve been doing sick stuff together. We take our temperatures together and hope they match – then we are temperature buddies.

For Hanukkah I got a pair of fedoras (exactly what I wanted, one for every occasion). With my fever, I’ve been wearing them indoors (nothing like a grown man limping around in his pajamas and a fedora and whining to make a wife wonder how her life went so wrong.) My son wears the other hat and we are the “Hat Squad” together. Sometimes we are cowboys. Sometimes we are detectives. Sometimes we pull the brims down to just over our eyes and stare at mom. She’d take the hats away, but even five minutes of “Hat Squad” exhausts me and I have to lie down.

As in many things, my son has it much better than I do. I remember staying home from school sick. It was so boring. Pre-cable TV choices were usually re-runs of “Bewitched” or “My Three Sons” (shows that are only funny through the lenses of post-modern irony – which I did not possess in elementary school) and public television, which usually had the most boring documentary the BBC ever made on one channel, and “Mr. Rogers” on another. (As a kid, I found Mr. Rogers dorky and tedious. As an adult, I urge my kids to watch so I can bask in the late Fred Rogers’ warmth and generosity. His sense of calm and silence are vastly underappreciated by children and desperately needed by grown-ups.)

I usually ended up reading, in which case I might as well have stayed at school.

Now there are dozens of channels. There were quality dramas and sitcoms throughout the day. Comedy Central thoughtfully airs the “Daily Show” several times as well. There were also several good full-length movies on. Unfortunately, when you have the Martian Death Flu, even watching TV takes too much effort.

But no matter what the progress, or what may yet be proved, the simple facts of life are such, they cannot be removed. The fundamental things apply. The drink for sick kids is ginger ale dry.

All parents always keep a bottle of store-brand ginger ale on hand. So I broke out the ginger ale - it may have been the same bottle. It was flat, just like I remembered it. But my son was game because a parent was actually giving him soda (just like me at that age.) But for me it wasn't potable, so I used it to teach him to do shots. So we sat in our fedoras, our eyes tearing with conjunctivitis, downing glass after tiny glass of memories. Then, everything went black.

My son drank me under the table.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Carpool Tales

For various reasons Father Goof sends his son to a private school. This requires carpooling, which creates an odd kind of extended family.

Because Father Goof is both the least gainfully employed and least useful adult member of this extended family, he gets the toughest carpool duty - afternoon pickup. Every afternoon I ask my son and his carpool buddy what they learned today. And every afternoon they reply in desultory fashion, "Nothing."

I keep thinking, for what I pay in tuition, I should get more than "Nothing." I should be amused, entertained. They should be regular Scheherazades back there regaling me with a 1001 Carpool Afternoons.

Better still, to really see my tuition dollars at work, I'd like the school to pick the Little Goof up by helicopter.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Henny for the Young Man

On my continuing theme of teaching my children comic timing, I’ve introduced my son to the comedy stylings of Henny Youngman. One of my son’s favorite jokes is:
Did you hear about the man who was killed by a weasel?

He was lying on the railroad tracks and he didn’t hear the weasel.
My son, to his credit, improved the joke:
Did you hear about the weasel who was killed by a person?

He was lying on the railroad track and he didn’t hear the person coming.
Today, it all paid off. My son’s kindergarten teacher had been sick. My wife asked, “How’s your teacher?”

My son deadpanned, “Compared to what?”

My wife, who grew up in a deprived environment and had never heard of Henny Youngman before meeting me, spit diet Coke through her nose. Then she had to go to the bathroom.

It was the best day ever.

My son turned to me and said, in his little Darth Vader voice, “The circle is now complete. When I met you I was but the learner. Now, I am the master.”

“Only a master of weasel, Darth.”

Friday, October 27, 2006

If you tell a kid a fart joke...

If you tell a kid a fart joke, he'll start to laugh. He'll laugh so hard that he toots. Then, that reminds him of what made him laugh in the first place and it makes him laugh all over again, until he toots, which makes will make him laugh...

I've discovered the secret to perpetual motion. Nothing kills with an audience of five year olds like fart jokes. Nothing.

Harry Truman's Vice President, Alben Barkley once said that the best audience is, intelligence, well-educated, and a little drunk."

For five year olds, the key is gassy. If that's your crowd, ply them with beans.

Walk for the Clueless

In carpool I always ask my son and his carpool buddy, "What did you do in kindergarten today?"

Earlier this week my son told me he had gone on a walk to "find the homeless."

"Do you mean, help the homeless?" I asked.

"Yeah, and I found a lot of homeless. Like seven!"

His buddy interjected, "That's not a lot. I found a super-lot, like forty homeless."

Friday, October 20, 2006

Delicious Dragons

One night after he went to bed I put my son's Li'l Dragons karate belt on my head like a bandana. It fit me perfectly. My wife says this means my hat size is bigger than his waist size.

That also means that in a pinch, if I really stretch my jaw - I could swallow him whole like an anaconda. Good to know.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Conference on Columbo's Day

My wife and I were asked by my son's teacher to come in for a conference. My first parent-teacher conference (as a parent that is) - it will, I expect, be the first of many.

The kindergarten teacher reported that my son disrupted the Columbus Day lesson. Apparently, when the teacher started telling the students about a man named Columbus my son jumped up and yelled:
I know about Columbo! He has a glass eye. He wears a rumpled raincoat. He has an old dog and an old car. And he always says, "Just one more thing."
When the teacher told him to settle down he said, "Wait, just one more thing. He smokes a cigar."

The teacher restored order but when she started telling the class how Columbus set sail my son resumed lecturing:
They set sail on a three hour tour. But the weather got rough and they were stranded on an island. And the skipper was fat, and when he got mad he yelled, "Gilligan!" But when he was nice he'd say, "Come here little Buddy." And the Professor could make anything out of a coconut - even a computer. And one more thing. They had a bamboo car, and..."
My son's teacher suggested that I might consider reducing his TV team and better monitor what he watched.

I grinned sheepishly and explained that he didn't really watch very much TV. He learned about the great TV sleuth when I started calling him Columbo because whenever he told me anything he was always saying, "One more thing Daddy. One more thing."

He knew about "Gilligan's Island" because sometimes I couldn't think of a bedtime story so I would tell him the plot of an episode. Then, even if I couldn't remember how that episode went, I could make something up and end it with Gilligan ruining their plan to get off the island and skipper chasing him and yelling, "Gilligan!"

The teacher patted my wife gently on the shoulder and gave her a cookie.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Virtues of Walk-In Fridge

If you are re-doing your kitchen, I highly recommend a walk-in fridge. Besides the obvious virtues of a big storage space (keeping massive amounts of meat and beer on hand - you can keep a whole cow in there) they also are good for time-outs.

I know some child welfare types (like my mom) would object. But children aren't covered by the Geneva Convention. Besides, five minutes in the walk-in fridge isn't that bad, especially if you leave the little light on.

But make sure there isn't anything really good to eat in there - otherwise you've created an incentive for misbehavior.

Friday, September 29, 2006

PC for Children

At the park one day with my son, we encountered a family and the mother was wearing a hijab. My son, then three, called out, "Look Daddy, Muslims!"

"Ha ha," I said wanly, "I guess he shouldn't be watching so much CNN."

Fortunately, the mom handled this with aplomb, saying to her family, "Did you hear what the little boy said? He's right. We're Muslims."

Of course, this could have been much worse. When he sees slender African-American women he is apt to shout, "Daddy, look - it's Condoleeza Rice!"

Ha ha, I shouldn't have let him watch the 9/11 Commission hearings with me.

Sometimes I make things worse. We were discussing Spiderman's enemies - one of whom is "Hydro-Man" who can turn into water.(?!?) I am teaching my son sarcasm and began joking, that you don't need Spider powers to fight Hydro-Man, a paper towel would do. I told him about Rosie and Bounty (the quicker picker upper) and how maybe Hydro-Man could be her archenemy.

Than I got a little carried away, and though of the perfect hero for an epic battle with Hydro-Man - Towel Head Man.

"Ahem," my wife said, "Was that a good idea?"

"Ha ha," I smiled wanly.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Kitchen Design for Dads: Part I

The Goofs live in one of those blessed municipalities where increased property values have made home improvement not merely popular but mandated by law. I voted for a soundproof glass playroom, my wife opted for a new kitchen (it was the original kitchen and apparently she was tired of cooking over a hearth.)

At the kitchen design showroom I was awed by the vast expanses of gleaming granite countertop and the sleek new appliances. I envisioned myself standing by the island, my dome gleaming under the recessed lighting (I use a little Extra Virgin Olive Oil for a special sheen - thanks George Costanza) issuing commands:
Left burners on full! Oven, 450 degrees! Dishwasher, complete cycle! Engage!
However, I should warn you, the bridge of the Enterprise is a terrible model for kitchen design (your wife won't let you do it anyway). My friend Milton did use the bridge of the Enterprise as the template for his kitchen. Bad traffic flow, and surprisingly little counterspace (although he used the original series.)

Still, Milton's wife let him do this - he may be the luckiest man in the world.

But definitely get a pull-out faucet head, you can pretend it is an intercom and issue commands to the whole house (at least until your wife grabs you by the ear with the salad tongs.)

Monday, September 04, 2006

G'Bye Mate: We'll Miss the Crocodile Hunter

Steve Irwin, better known as "The Crocodile Hunter" died as he lived, shouting about wildlife.

A little "Crocodile Hunter" went a long way and it was easy (and fun) to overdose. I remember my son's first exposure. He was home sick from school and when I got home from work and sat with him on the couch he attempted to "trap" me. First he covered me with a red and yellow afghan my grandmother had made for me and then he tried to haul me away with his "Li'l Builder" crane. I asked him what he was doing and he jumped on me (sick no more apparently) and said, "Quiet, ya big croc! I'll get ya!"

Irwin was a big man, who's calming whispers would have been a bellow coming from a lesser bloke. I envied him. During the 2004 brouhaha over his holding his son near a crocodile I could only think how cool for the little Croc kid. His dad was famous and played with cool animals. The closest equivalent for my son is when I bring him to my office and let him use the stapler - he might staple his sleeve to my desk calendar.

My mom only exacerbated my envy. A retired social worker, her professional call was that Irwin was the best judge of whether a crocodile posed a danger to his son and would have let it go at that. On the other hand, she has opined that my letting my five year old watch Seinfeld reruns is child abuse.*

If there is an afterlife, I hope it has cable. Because the outsized, blustering Irwin could team up with the sagacious Fred Rogers for an eternity of the greatest children's programming of all time.

Meanwhile, all of Australia is in mourning. Suddenly they are short of international celebrities (Paul Hogan proving to be a washout and Mel Gibson just being too weird.) Hopefuly the Australian government is taking the appropriate measures to protect the Wiggles.

*I may have brought this maternal judgement on myself. I taught my son to greet his grandmother by narrowing his eyes to a slit and saying, "Hello Newman." (My mom's name isn't even Newman.)

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

"Here... diagonally"

If you were a kid in the 1970s you probably remember the commercial for "Connect Four:"
sister: I win!
brother: where, I don't see it
sister: see, here...diagonally
brother: pretty sneaky, sis!
Then the brother - frustrated - would let all the checkers fall to the table in a red and black crescendo worthy of Stendahl.

Now my son is in a "Connect Four" phase. But at five, the concept of diagonal is on a par with astrophysics. Again and again I get to relive that commercial. Except my son, rather than being impressed by my cleverness, is simply bewildered. He does enjoy watching the checkers crash.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Finding Problems with Nemo

Finding Nemo is a charming animated movie about a daddy clownfish on a quest to find his little lost clownfish child. It will occupy your children endlessly, and you can even watch it a few times without getting sap poisoning.

However, there are complications. First, my son went through a phase in which he was anxious about going down the drain. Bathtime was a terrifying experience because of his concerns. I marshaled extensive evidence to prove that he would not go down the drain. There were demonstrations - frequently using objects he could eat: but that could not go down the drain. There were discussions, lectures, diagrams. I employed a multi-pronged full-scale informational campaign to prove that he could not slip down the drain. I used every tool of the Western philosophical tradition - from empirical evidence, to Aristotelian logic, to Socratic dialogues. Finally, he was persuaded.

Then he saw the movie, which includes a scene where Nemo, in fact, goes down the drain. (For Nemo this was a good thing since it allowed him to get out of a fish tank and back to the Great Barrier Reef - but my son saw right through this and will never trust me again.)

Issue Two: Clownfish are really cute, colorful fish. They are also saltwater fish - which means if you put them in a tank at home they will probably die soon. If you really know what you are doing then:
  1. you probably aren't reading this blog, since keeping your fish alive is absorbing your every waking moment and

  2. the fish will die a bit less soon.
Keep this in mind when your children see the clownfish at the pet store and beg to have a real Nemo at home.* You don't want to be the Daddy who killed Nemo. At the "flusheral" your children will wail like walruses in heat (a more tragic and sad sound may you never hear.)

With that in mind, you might be tempted to appease the little tyrants by applying whiteout to a regular goldfish. This is very hard on both you and the goldfish. Touching up more than one goldfish in this manner will almost certainly exceed your emotional, physiological, and chronological capabilities (to say nothing of the goldfish). Worse if you have other goldfish they will tease the painted one mercilessly.

Not to say Finding Nemo isn't a good kids movie. But, like all good things, it comes at a cost.

* I am aware of the irony that Finding Nemo was about a little clownfish escaping to freedom from captivity, and yet your children will want to place a clownfish in captivity. Children, however, are immune to irony (and also to sarcasm). It is a survival mechanism.

You may wish to try to reason with your kids. When they demand a clownfish try to explain this inconsistency. Have fun with that. I understand some people also like jabbing forks in their ears.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Doggie Stories Redux

They were onto me. The kids asked me, over and over again, to read the story of Balto the dog hero. Then they would giggle at me as my voice caught and I choked back my tears. I think my wife instigated this.

So, in revenge, I threw the most poignant dog story ever written at them. (Not Old Yeller, which in comparison seems insipid.) I made them listen as I read (and it took a long time because I kept choking up):
Thus they spoke to one another. And a hound that lay there raised his head and pricked up his ears, Argos, the hound of Odysseus, of the steadfast heart, whom of old he had himself bred, but had no joy of him, for ere that he went to sacred Ilios. In days past the young men were wont to take the hound to hunt the wild goats, and deer, and hares; but now he lay neglected, his master gone, in the deep dung of mules and cattle, which lay in heaps before the doors, till the slaves of Odysseus should take it away to dung his wide lands. There lay the hound Argos, full of vermin; yet even now, when he marked Odysseus standing near, he wagged his tail and dropped both his ears, but nearer to his master he had no longer strength to move. Then Odysseus looked aside and wiped away a tear, easily hiding from Eumaeus what he did; and straightway he questioned him, and said: “Eumaeus, verily it is strange that this hound lies here in the dung. He is fine of form, but I do not clearly know whether he has speed of foot to match this beauty or whether he is merely as table-dogs are, which their masters keep for show.” To him then, swineherd Eumaeus, didst thou make answer and say: “Aye, verily this is the hound of a man that has died in a far land. If he were but in form and in action such as he was when Odysseus left him and went to Troy, thou wouldest soon be amazed at seeing his speed and his strength. No creature that he started in the depths of the thick wood could escape him, and in tracking too he was keen of scent. But now he is in evil plight, and his master has perished far from his native land, and the heedless women give him no care. Slaves, when their masters lose their power, are no longer minded thereafter to do honest service: for Zeus, whose voice is borne afar, takes away half his worth from a man, when the day of slavery comes upon him.” So saying, he entered the stately house and went straight to the hall to join the company of the lordly wooers. But as for Argos, the fate of black death seized him straightway when he had seen Odysseus in the twentieth year.

My social worker mother might consider it child abuse, but a little Homer won't hurt you. If you have lost your Lattimore, forgotten your Fagles, or ton Pope es perdu you can find the complete text of the Illiad and the Odyssey and much else at the Perseus Digital Library.

You can torment your children with it now. But you can dream that in a few decades this stuff will come in handy and get them out of a jam. Then, you'll have an excuse to do your Sean Connery impression (from either Name of the Rose or Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade) and pronounce, "Your classical education serves you well."

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Hidden Properties of Cheerios

To your bare skin a milk soaked Cheerio feels astonishingly like a booger. Don't walk around barefoot after breakfast. Don't mention this to your kids - otherwise Cheerios become a dual use technology.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Rock, Paper, Ewww!

My son has outgrown Tic-Tac-Toe (although I shouldn't speak to soon.) He has however discovered Rock, Paper, Scissors which is far more action-packed. But, being a boy, he developed his own version: Tongue, Toilet, Booger. Don't ask.*

My son, for some reason, prefers scissors and almost never uses paper at all. This is his secret vulnerability (his Kryptonite if you will). So if you find yourself in a rock, paper, scissors marathon with him play for money and take him for everything he is worth. Just cut me in for a slice.

* OK, you asked - tongue is grossed out by toilet, which in turn is clogged by booger, which is licked by tongue. I told you not to ask.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Playtime II: Fun is what your sibling finds

My father-in-law is a wonderful man, of course. Besides having a beautiful daughter, he came to this country with nothing and worked hard to guarantee decent lives for his children. He is truly a hero and I admire him. I envy him a bit too - his drive and his skill. Among his many talents is that he can build anything. (Also, even in his late seventies he has a great head of hair - which my son will inherit.)

One consequence of his life of working with his hands is that his yard is littered with aged rusty implements and parts - or, as my children like to call them, toys.

Watching my kids fight over a rusty bolt, when a few minutes of searching would probably reveal another one or something even cooler, says something profound about human nature.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Summer Baldbusters

Thanks to the power of marketing all the talk at the Goof household is Pirates and Superman. My little girl saw "Rainbow Beard the Pirate" on Barney and got scared. Now she doesn't like pirates and is constantly announcing, "Pirates! Not nice!" Of course my son, excited by "Pirates of the Caribbean II" (not that he'll be seeing it any time soon) is constantly talking about pirates. And everytime he mentions them, my daughter emphatically states, "Pirates! Not nice! Scary!"

Meanwhile, I have a bone to pick with the "Superman" movie - and it isn't about the glasses. They really can fool you. Lex Luther's baldness just continues to play into the stereotype that bald men are bad men. Besides Lex Luther we have Ming the Merciless, Darth Vader, Egghead, Skeletor, Mr. Clean, and George Costanza. As I enter the ranks of this oppressed minority - I share in their outrage.

Friday, July 28, 2006

Father Goof's Precepts #1

Never get into an elevator with a bicycle messenger.

Pets & Kids I: Territorial Inhibitions

Quick thought for parents with more pets (that is warm-blooded, free-range four-leggers) than people in the house:

If your little one is having consistent #1 accidents in the same place or so: he may not be having trouble toilet training. He may be marking territory.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Playtime I: Imagining the Mundane

My son plays these elaborate games within games. Recently, he and I built a zoo out of blocks and boxes, populating it with various toy animals. He and I were the zoo keepers. The animals had a playtime - where they had several adventure games (the monkeys were playing pirate, while the hippos - incongrously - were pretending to be lions, and the pigs were playing family.) As we shuttled between these games, we also had to attend to ongoing business at the zoo which was receiving visitors who were having their own adventures.

(I kept losing track of which adventure we were in - and my son would scold me for not paying attention. This game did something I didn't think possible - it gave me sympathy for the Windows operating system. No wonder it keeps shutting down when too many things are open.)

Eventually the little bears at the zoo began an elaborate pretend game, in which one of the bears was king and the other bears were coming to him with their problems. I couldn't exactly follow what the problems were - the narrative thread was a bit shaky. However, at one point, my son, playing the little bear king, said, in his deep little wise voice, "That is an important problem. We will have to have a meeting."

I was so proud. Already, he knows how to evade issues by referring them to a committee. (I was about six times his age before I learned how to do that.)

This may not augur well for his future success however. When I was little, I had lots of Fisher-Price toys. So I put the little Fisher-Price parking garage right next to the Fisher-Price airport and charged exorbitant rates. When the Playmobil guys came by and tried to build another parking garage I bought off the Fisher-Price town council to pass new zoning ordnances. The Fisher-Price dad always complained about the parking rates when they went on their daily vacations to my underwear drawer - but what could he do? I also owned the Fisher-Price school bus which was the only shuttle service available.

Unfortunately, my business achievements peaked early and have not been matched by comparable commercial success in adulthood. I am hoping my son is still on an upward trajectory.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Annals of Boredom III: Scary Voices

When I read stories to my kids and did my scary voice for the witches in stories like "Snow White" and "Sleeping Beauty" my kids got upset and had nightmares. Now I read them in my Fran Drescher voice. My kids couldn't stop laughing.

My wife has nightmares.

Wife Management I: Immaturity Works

If, for whatever reason, you and your wife discuss which of your friends you should marry should your spouse die: don't!

But if you do - don't pick the friend who's company you actually enjoy and think is an interesting person. Always, always, always, pick your best looking friend. Yes, it shows you are superficial and immature, that is - you are a guy. That's fine, your wife expects this - it is safe. Attempting to show that you've entered adulthood will only hurt you.

In the game of life, good looks are a lucky hand. Good if you've got them, but not really indicative of anything important. Your wife can deal with this.

But enjoying another woman's company as a person - that is a threat, a danger. That is what she thinks (and hopefully does) have with you.

In short, it is counter-intuitive, but on this one - be a dope.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Doggie Stories

"What are you laughing at?" my wife asked, as I was reading the children the story of Balto the hero dog. Balto led a team of sled dogs carrying emergency medicine for children in Nome, Alaska through a blizzard.

"I just am."

"Daddy, there is nothing funny about sick children," my son scolded.

My son is right. But I didn't want them to know I was all choked up. Balto was a good dog.

Friday, June 23, 2006

One Man's Trash...

Thursday night is a night of anticipation. After our traditional pizza dinner, the children go to bed a bit early - because they can't wait for morning to come. (I don't know, but I am guessing that this is a bit like what Christmas must be like - Jewish holidays actually start the night before.)

Then, they wake up bright and early, get dressed quickly, and stand with bated breath, staring out the window - waiting...

With a rumble and a squeal it arrives in front of our house and my daughter yells, "Trash truck Daddy! Trash truck!"

Here is the best part - we have three different recycle trucks that service our neighborhood (one each for plastic & metal, paper, and yard waste.) I don't know how that can possibly be good for the environment, but my children's awe and wonder at it is unjaded - they could watch trash trucks all day.

My tax dollars at work - peace is worth every penny.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Special Father's Day Gift

My little girl is, of course, a Princess. So I was telling her about the
exotic pets a princess should have, like a leopard or a polar bear.

This is a set-up. I tell her how she will need to ask mommy if we can have
this pet. She then runs to mommy yelling, "Mommy, have tiger?! Tiger!"

My wife cries back at me despairingly, "Why? Why do you do this to me?"

My son at five has already outgrown this game. Whenever I ask him about an
interesting pet, he just responds, "Daddy, they make too much poopy."

Yesterday, when I told my little girl we could get a zebra if mommy said
yes, she looked at me and said, "No, Daddy!"

I was so proud, only two years old and she is learning that sometimes people
are full of it. You can't teach them healthy skepticism too young. That is
the best gift of all, seeing your children growing and learning. It was a
magical Father's Day.

On the other hand, maybe my wife got to her, it wouldn't be the first

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Father's Day Treat

Today I treated myself to a new Starbucks Banana Mocha Frappuccino.

It is a profoundly disgusting beverage. A sickly-sweet blend of incongruent

I had a Venti.

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.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Diaper Diaries I: Good Euphemism/Bad Euphemism

There are a lot of possible ways to describe a full diaper. A bad one would be, "Rick James is in the house." The problem here is that people will ask for an explanation (Rick James was very funky) and in the process of giving it your older child will learn the word "funk." When he says it, it will sound like something else.

On the other hand, an odd but fitting description is, "She's got diamonds on the soles of her shoes."

My daughter has a distinctive waddle after loosening her load. Maybe you have to be there.

Children's TV that Moms can Love

My wife has made it a point to occasionally watch TV with our kids, to know what they are seeing and how they are understanding it - she says.  But somehow, the show she always makes time for is LazyTown.  

It seemed odd that my wife would be such a fan of this particular show, until I joined them and quickly discovered why the show appeals to moms:

It gets worse.

When not in his Sportacus outfit, Magnus Scheving, the show's creator and star, is a world class athlete and entrepreneur who promotes health and fitness for children and looks like this:

Father Goof hates him.

But in fairness, Father Goof has some favorites as well. The kids always call me when a Laurie Berkner music video comes on.  

Cute songs.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

Proud Papa and the Principal's Office

My two year old daughter was sent to the office at her pre-school. She refused to eat her lunch before her cookie. I am so proud. I had to wait until I was eight to be sent to the Principal's office. I guess I can kiss Harvard good-bye because this goes on her permanent record.

But it is more important to stand up for yourself.

(So I tell myself. As a parent you have to tell yourself all sorts of bizarre things about your children. Like that parenthood gets easier.)

Fight the power sweetheart! Stick it to the man!

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Annals of Boredom II: Repeating Impressions

Children thrive on repetition. When they find a favorite story they will
want it read to them over and over and over again - without break. You may
find yourself cheering when the gingerbread man is trapped and eaten or come
to see the little red hen as a sanctimonious schoolmarm, or even root for
the giant to catch Jack and devour him. I have.

One fun little way to make these endless re-readings more fun is to practice
your impressions. I do Sean Connery when I read "Old MacDonald had a Farm."
I also do a killer rap version of "Five Little Ducks."

On the last, there is a bonus. My son will offer to "read" (that is recite)
"Five Little Ducks" to his little sister and he'll do the rap version. (My
wife goes to the bedroom and sobs softly to herself.)

Now I am trying to find him some age appropriate bling. Maybe something
with a Thomas the Tank Engine motif.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Recommended Chase Music

You will probably spend a fair amount of time chasing your children around the dining room table. Kids love to run around in circles. As much fun as it is - it will be even more fun if you play the theme from the Benny Hill Show.

In a pinch you can hum it - but if you are like me running and humming at the same time are no longer possible and being winded in front of your children is really embarrassing (and more importantly it reveals a vulnerability that your children will exploit).

Friday, May 19, 2006

Sweet Tears

At the supermarket today I tried to make a little boy laugh by making faces.  But instead he burst into tears.

I was pretty upset too, since this was killer material.  My signature move is puffing up my cheeks like Dizzy Gillespie.  But I was also wriggling my nose, goofy grins.  If this stuff doesn't work I might as well throw in the towel.

I felt bad for the mom who had a kid sitting the shopping cart quietly, playing with a bag of frozen okra - now screaming.  She comforted him, whispering to him softly in Spanish (all I caught was something about el blanco loco.

We made up with a little peek-a-boo (it was a pretty long line.)

I mentioned it to my wife - and she asked me if I puffed up my cheeks.

"Of course," I grinned.  She said little wonder he cried, the cheek thing is freakish.  Also, I've got a few days of stubble going, so I must have looked like a frightened myopic blowfish.

Meanwhile, a few days ago, I was chatting with the mom of one of my son's friends when we picked up our kids from their pre-school.  The two boys were running around.  My son's friend fell hard, landing on his rump, on a rock.  He burst into tears (who could blame him) and his mother scooped him up.

This little boy has an older brother, so he always seemed worldly and grown-up (for a five year old that is.)  My son idolizes his friend a bit because his friend has actually seen the Star Wars movies and plays on the computer himself.  I'd never seen him cry.  He's a great kid - I didn't want to see him in any pain.  But it was nice to see him as a little boy.

At five all boys want to be tough and big and strong.  They want to grow up and they are like little man dolls - posing and posturing.  But they are little boys too.  Sometimes, when they are squeezed just a little the sweetness comes out.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Mothers Day Woes & Dos

Father Goof has been recovering from Mothers Day - so no blogging here. Sorry to provide this advice late but there is always next year (or you could surprise her for a change you selfish clod...)

So there is one thing you can do for your wife on Mothers Day - take the children away from her.

That is what she wants and deserves. Give her the day off from morning to night and let her choose what she wants to do with it, no matter how inane:
    - Watch reruns of Bewitched
    - Drink margaritas*
    - Do laundry
    - Sadly cry about the morass of living death her life has become
    - Sleep
    - Shop for shoes
    - All of the above
Also, jewelry is good. But jewelry or not - do not expect, or ask for, any Mothers Day treats - that's what got her into this in the first place.

Disappointed that your efforts reap no rewards? Good, now you know how she feels - every day. (Selfish clod.)

* FYI, if she mixes Bewitched and margaritas it will lead straight to the crying. Sam's ability to clean the house with a twitch drives women crazy. Expect a rough time with this combo. Of course you could also pick-up occasionally (selfish clod.)

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Annals of Boredom I: Summer Evenings and Attack of the BubbleDroids

My little girl is just learning to blow bubbles. So we blow bubbles together and she laughs with pure joy and wonder. It is good.

But, believe it or not, too much waving the little bubblewand can hurt your rotator cuff. You'll need a break.

This is better. She blows bubbles. My son, believes they are BubbleDroids and leaps to defend the galaxy from their menace with his "lightsabre" (a nerf "Little Champs" baseball bat).

And I can sit with them in the backyard and enjoy a Father Goof-sized gin and tonic (32 ounces in my son's Yoda cup). She spills bubble stuff on her hands and shirt. No worries - the primary ingredient of bubble stuff is soap.

Sunday, April 30, 2006

Abbot & Costello at our Breakfast Table

"Daddy, who is that man with George Bush?"


"That man there?"

"He's the President of China."

"What's his name?"


"That man you just said, from China, that's who?"


"Daddy, who is the President of China?"

"You've got it!"

"Mommy! Daddy won't tell me who is the President of China!"

"Tell Daddy to stop teaching old bits and hack material!"

"Daddy, Mommy says you are a hack and need new material."

My wife doesn't understand. You can't teach small children material. Material comes and goes. But you can teach them timing - timing is forever. And you can't teach them too early - because if they are going to Carnegie Hall, the only way to get there is practice, practice, practice.

Friday, April 28, 2006

About Daughters II: Possession and Modulation

If you have a daughter, about two years old, do not be surprised if she frequently speaks in a disturbing, deep, growly voice. Often it will be single word demands. "MORE!" "JUICE!" "BARNEY!"

Sometimes it will be random, semi-coherent grunting noises like an angry equine or Dick Cheney.

This is normal and if you are worried that she is possessed, she is. This is also normal.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

The Big Secret of Parenting Small Children

It can be kind of... boring.

You play with them for a while - say 20 minutes - and it is wonderful. You see their little minds grasping new concepts, new pathways being formed. You see them making connections. It was Aristotle who said that people learn by imitation. You see the odd bits of adult behavior that they pick up. My son just constructed a mock-up of my office out of mega-blocks. It included my office, my boss' office (I like to bring my son by so my boss will take pity on me and continue my employment), and the elevator we take to get up there. It also had the office of the guy who has a plastic samurai sword. Oh, and he included the bobble-head bear that is a centerpiece in our conference room (don't ask.)

However, children require repetition to learn. The first couple of times we play "office" with Legos is pretty great. It starts to wear. If you love your kids, but after an hour of this sort of thing you are desperate for adult company - you are normal.

With that in mind, I will soon launch a series of entries on boredom antidotes.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

About Daughters I: Burqa Envy

Let me first say - I am a modern guy, the only reasons I have doubts about feminine equality is that it does not comport with the reality of feminine superiority (especially my wife's over me.)

However, now that I have a daughter, I understand the burqa. I am not saying I approve, only that I understand.

I have friends and relatives with older daughters and it has been a joy to see them grow up from little girls to charming and lovely young women. I look forward to watching my own daughter grow up (she is only two so there is a way to go - with probably a long pony obsession phase in the meantime).

But I also know how teenage boys think, and when I consider that - suddenly the burqa doesn't seem like the worst idea.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Pesach Traditions

Just like some bonehead decided to create New Coke, there has been a remake of The Ten Commandments.

Aesthetic issues aside, this was a problem. My son and I have a tradition of watching it the night before the first Pesach seder. He is not quite five and this would be our third year watching it. This is a big thing in his life and he was pretty disappointed. Fortunately, it was aired in its fullness Saturday night and he made it almost all the way through.

Between Charlton Heston's hokey acting, the super cheesy dance sequences, and the sheer length of the thing (weighing in at four and half hours with commercials) keeping him up to watch it is borderline child abuse (at least according to my social worker mom.)

But it was worth it the next morning when we told him we'd make his favorite breakfast he arched his eyebrow and intoned, "So it is written. So it shall be done." Clap! Clap!

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Do the Hustle

Right now my son is in a tic-tac-toe phase. He can play it endlessly and my efforts to humor him and let him win only encourage him to play more. (There are only so many ways to lose at tic-tac-toe.)

So I am hustling him. We make a bet, I lose, then offer double or nothing. Finally, when the ante is high enough and he is flush with confidence I take him.

Do I feel bad about deceiving my son?

Absolutely not! He gets to play a fun game with Daddy while learning a valuable life lesson (better he learn at home than at a tavern from a guy named Slim.*) And, having taken him – my retirement is covered. He owes me a million-gazillion dollars.

* Don't mess around with that guy. Also, don't tug on Superman's cape, spit into the wind, or try to pull the mask off of the Lone Ranger.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Velcro: A Cost Benefit Analysis

No doubt you vowed that your children would not have velcro shoes - that they would learn to tie their shoes and that velcro was an abomination before the Lord.

I did.

But the other day the preschool director was giving me a foul look when I brought my children in ten minutes late. The reason - besides a blockage in my intravenous coffee drip - a knot in my two year old daughter's shoe. Not to take anything away from Alexander the Great, but I had an additional challenge as I struggled with this Gordita knot*, my four year old was telling me, "Chewbacca and Anakin are friends and together they met Yoda and learned the Force, and Daddy, I'm serious this happened..." Nothing like a high-pitched voice talking extremely fast to improve your concentration and fine motor skills. After ten minutes of this I went to put my son's shoes on. This took some doing because he kept jumping up to roar like a Wookie.

Meanwhile my daughter pulled her shoes and socks off...

They can learn to tie their shoes in college. In the morning I need speed. If velcro shoes save me ten minutes a morning that adds up to an hour a week, which is more than a workweek a year. This will also lower your blood pressure. Plus it saves me the scorn of the preschool teacher.

But, all things have a price. I have lost numerous ties to velcro snaps on their jackets. (Once they learn how to do the velcro on their shoes Pandora's Box is open - it cannot be closed. They will randomly rip open the velcro snaps on their jackets.) This is a price you will have to pay.

* This is a double reference - to the unsolvable Gordian knot that Alexander the Great split with his sword and the Spanish word gordita which means "Little fat one" (yes, like the things they sell at Taco Bell.)

Don't discuss changin' (diapers)

At some point you are going to want to humorously complain to your friends about diaper changing and your child's chemical weapons quality excretions.


Your wife will frown at you and observe that you change about one diaper a week. This will set in motion a discussion you do not want to have. When you contest her she will be able to recall, with absolute precision, the time, volume, and velocity of every diaper change going back to the baby's birth. How you, while watching the game promised to "Get the next one" three months ago (she's waiting.) Or the time the baby had one of those IED poops that spattered the room at three AM and she had to run a load of laundry - and you slept.

In short - you lose!

Alternately, on the off chance you do change your share of diapers and you can prove it you will have just shown up your wife as an inadequate mother in front of all your friends. She might cry.

You lose.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Daycare WMD

I have reason to believe that the government is running a network of biowarfare centers at Daycares across America. Children come home with steady streams of new variations of colds, coughs, flus, and fevers. If we want quiet in Iraq, all we need to do is hit them with whatever my son just brought home preschool. Within a day the entire country would be reduced to laying down, moaning, and snorting. At least that's how it worked at my house.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Know Your Parts

It will save you a lot of hassle if you can commit to memory where your children part their hair.

Trust me on this one.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Meet the Flintstones

Children have the capability of making you feel very, very old.

I dropped my son off at a community event tonight where, among other things, they watched cartoons. He had never seen The Flintstones before and announced to me excitedly, "Daddy, look, cartoons with those guys who have the cereal!"

This is almost as bad as the time at work when, a few years ago, I made a reference to the "Sweathogs" to my recent college-grad assistant and my college age intern and was answered with blank stares. ("Sweathogs" - they were on "Welcome Back Kotter," a sitcom starring Gabe Kaplan - just Google it.)

Now I check on this when I interview possible job candidates. It isn't a job requirement - but I'd like to know so I can avoid the blank stares.

Monday, January 16, 2006

MLK Day for Parents

Today, my wife and I celebrated our freedom from oppressive, demanding overlords. We handed our children off to my parents. When the handoff was completed, we sat in the care for twenty minutes shouting:

Free at last, free at last. Thank God almighty, free at last.

Our freedom however will be shortlived - we pick them up Monday afternoon.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Bye Bye Buy Buy Baby

Just like everything else, baby stuff is now purchased in mega-stores, such as Buy Buy Baby. You will have to spend a lot of time in these stores - babies, toddlers, etc. require a lot of stuff. However, as big as these stores are, there is very little cool stuff in them - and you will get bored.

You would think getting baby stuff would appeal to Dads. There are lots of choices, with complicated options and various drawbacks and advantages. Cribs, carseats, pacifiers. There are warring factions on Mommy news-groups on all of these issues. Long, bloody conflicts that make Mac vs. PC seem downright dignified.

But there is nothing there for a Dad to sink his teeth into - maybe because none of these devices have any electronics or engines or anything. The key issue with them is never power - it is always safety.

The big electronic items are baby monitors, which are about the least cool electronic device you can imagine. You can't change channels (say to listen to other people's kids, or ballgames), they all have the same range so there is nothing to compare, and you can't get one with fiber optics or satellite uplink mode.

They have videos and CDs, but it is mostly Barney, Baby Einstein, and Teletubbies. You will not want to spend a lot of time reviewing them. I don't know if they make kids smarter - but they definitely make adults dumber.

There is one thing Dads can get into - glider chairs. There are more than a few stories of Dads appropriating these comfortable chairs for various sports seasons. At the very least you can test them all (really you can test every single one) while your wife considers Britax vs. Combi and Avent vs. Gerber. Support her in whatever decision she makes. Or, if you are nuts, become a Gerber partisan when she has chosen Avent. Your call.

There is also a trick, that just might get you out of the store. Start softly singing "I want my babyback babyback babyback, I want my babyback, babyback ribs" over and over again. With luck your wife will let you go to a nearby tavern or coffeeshop or, whatever. The longer she waits before she releases you the more other Dads you will infect. Eventually, the manager will ask you to leave.

Sometimes these stores aren't near anything else, in which case the Dads just linger around the entrance, waiting and inadverdantly serenading entering Moms and Moms-to-be with endless repetitions of "I want my babyback babyback babyback, I want my babyback, babyback ribs."

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Jedi Dreams

My son is obsessed with Star Wars. At four and a half he is far too young to actually watch the movies, but he gazes longingly at the action figures when we go to toy stores, He discusses the characters and their various capabilities. Some days he is Yoda and some days he is Chewbacca. When he carries his little sister's diaper bag (he's a little helper monkey sometimes) he insists on putting the strap across his chest, in his words, "Like an Ewok."

Naturally, he yearns to become a Jedi and wield a light sabre. He talks about getting one when he is "older," say five. (He also thinks that is when he will learn how to drive. He plans to get married when he is six.)

What he doesn't know (and won't learn until he can read, access the Internet and find this blog) is that years ago, before he was born, I bought a plastic toy light sabre at a Woolworths. I never took it out of its package. It is sitting in his closet.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

Your Child's Mastication and You

You will, no doubt, delight in playing this little game. You will pop little pieces of food in your child's mouth and you will both laugh as the morsel disappears. In a little while you will graduate to the next level. Your child will share his/her food with you. Your kid will really get a kick out of this, laughing as you greedily chomp at his/her fingers. Little kids love this role reversal stuff, wherein they pretend to be the parent.

Be forewarned, your little one will try to help a bit too much. Sometimes the treat is a bit soggy. Your baby was just getting it started for you. That doesn't make it any less disgusting.