Sunday, December 30, 2007

Offsetting the Recession

Tired of hearing about my follicle oriented anxieties, my wife patted me gently on the head, kissed my increasingly exposed pate, and said,, "Don't worry there is more of you to kiss."

"Good, I'm growing more to kiss here to!" I said proudly, patting my expanding belly.

Pie Fears

I saw the very cute move The Waitress, in which Keri Russell plays a waitress who bakes wonderful pies. As she bakes she sings to herself:
Gonna bake a pie
Gonna bake a pie
Gonna bake a pie with a heart in the middle
Naturally the song is stuck in my head and I sing it to myself (not that I ever bake pies). Now, because my kids have heard it they are afraid of pie because there might be a heart in the middle.

That’s ok – more for me. Those books about how the human body works has really paid off.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Applying Political Theory to Parenthood

Having failed at so many, many worthwhile endeavors Father Goof is a graduate student. As part of my program, I am taking a course on political theory, which, to my surprise, is having practical applications to the art of parenthood. The other day we learned about the Borda count, an election method in which voters rate their choices and the candidate with the highest rating wins. My attitude towards democracy in the home usually echoes Lycurgus who when an Athenian told the Spartans to adopt democracy, answered, “Begin with your own family.”

Nonetheless the Borda count proved useful for maintaining social harmony in my kingdom. The other day, I picked up my son from school and asked him where he wanted to go to dinner. He told me Baja Fresh. I asked him what his second choice would be. At first he grumbled that he wasn’t really getting to choose, but I told him that if he picked two and his sister picked two then they would be bound to agree on one and everyone would be at least a little happy (thankfully they only eat at three restaurants.)

“Good idea Dad, but let me ask her which restaurant she wants for dinner.”

He is learning how to set the agenda to control the outcome – impressive.

When we got to her school he asked her, “Do you want dinner at Baja Fresh or the noodle place?”

“No Baja Fresh, I want noodles!” she voted.

“Daddy, she wants the noodle place.”

“Buddy,” I told him, “If you asked her right, she would have picked Baja Fresh and you would have gotten your first choice.”

“That’s ok Daddy. I was empowering her.”

I think I should stop reading my political theory homework to him for bedtime (although it does have the ended effect – Rawls, Habermas, and Dahl are good, but no one beats Amy Guttman for narcotic effect.)

Still it is an improvement, his previous attempts at empowering his sister have resulted in timeouts for him and the application of ice to his sibling’s forehead.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Brisk Fashions

Finally, cool temperatures have arrived. Hat weather - swimsuit season for balding.

But this is my first hat season with a beard. The overall effect is imposing - I am telling people I have converted to Amish.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Crative Discipline

My wife was talking on the phone with her sister, who has a dog (but no children). During the phone call the dog mis-behaved and my sister-in-law ordered, "Bad dog. Get in your crate!"

My wife laughed at this and when she told me about it I mused about getting a crate for our children when they misbehave (which is frequent). Child abuse issues aside, my wife doesn't think it would work. We'd order one of our children into the crate and the other child would start screaming, "No, that's my crate. It's not fair she/he always gets to go in the crate and I never do."

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Hard Bargaining

"Daddy," my son pleads, "Mommy says I don't need to change my underwear when I showered last night."

"You didn't shower last night."

"Yes I did!"

"No you didn't. You showered the night before. Change. Your. Underwear. Now."

"But Daddy, I don't..."

"If you don't change your underwear right now I won't tell you who won the World Series game last night."

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Unbearable Grossness of Boyhood

Little boys are gross. Always have been, always will be. Blood, poop, boogers - that is their realm. As a pre-teen I was briefly the publisher of Constipated Illustrated (it was not a journal of or about the movement.)

Kids today don't have to self-publish, today's boys are served by vast industries of grossness. (As always, I don't write out of contempt for today's soft generation - I write it of jealousy.) The exemplar of this realm is Dav Pilkey, creator of Captain Underpants. If I were seven or eight, I would be obsessed with Captain Underpants.

Pilkey's website has great little online games that my son plays. In general they are knock-offs of a video game classic (antique?) like Frogger or Space Invaders. Then there is the Booger Buster 2000. It is Tetris, except that the blocks are boogers sneezed out by a giant monster. There are sounds effects. It is disgusting. My stomach churned as I showed my son how to play. However, it is also Tetris so I couldn't stop playing. Except that it was disgusting. But it was still Tetris and it is so satisfying to line up those little blocks/boogers.

I'm just writing this to warn you.

Monday, September 24, 2007

My SuperPower

I have a super power, believe it or not. It isn't much, but it is mine. I can grow a beard extraordinarily fast. If this is compensation for the follicles rapidly evacuating my head, it is a very raw deal.

If I skip my Friday morning shave and go unshorn through the weekend (and most do) by Monday I've pretty much got a beard. This year, because of Jewish holidays I didn't shave for quite a stretch. So, without much forethought, I have a beard.

At first my daughter liked it. She saw me, touched it, and yelled, "Red!"

Through some genetic fluke (my hair is boring brown) I have a red beard. But then I kissed her and she yelled, "Ow, scratchy."

A friend of ours spoke well of it, saying the red highlights suited me and that the beard made me look distinguished and professorial. My wife noted, "She doesn't have to kiss you."

My son, however, is excited as can be, so we've been discussing how I should shape. He is caught between Obi Wan Kenobi (the young one, thank you very much), Wolverine, and Civil War General Ambrose Burnside popularizer of (you guessed it) the sideburn.

Any thoughts from readers? Really, speak up. I'll try one, shave it off and try another. I'll probably cycle through a dozen by New Years.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Pachelbel Bedtime: Great YouTube Video

This little video pretty much captures the essence of parenthood.

It was a small comfort to me to notice that in the background there were huge piles of toys and stuff pressed up against the wall. Just like my house - and pretty much every parent I know.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Power of Words

For a long time I looked forward to my son learning to read. It would open up vistas, introduce him to new worlds, and - most importantly - give him an engrossing, but silent, activity.

A child who reads is never bored.

A child who loves to read is a child who is not constantly shouting, "Daddy, play with me! Play! With! Me! Now!"

My son can now a read a handful of words, and one of them is "Sale!"

Now as we drive along he points out all the possible discounts we could get on the things he wants.

"Daddy, the bike store has a sale. I want a bike. That toystore has a sale, I want to go. We don't want to miss out on great savings."

Sigh. And yet again I learn the meaning of the maxim: Every solution lays the foundations for a new problem.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Back to School II: Education of the future Dr. Goof

The other day my daughter asked,"Daddy, are you going to a meeting?"

This was because I was dressed in something other than a hideous stained T-shirt and cut-off shorts.

"Not exactly, I'm going to school."

"Like me?" she asked, incredulous.

"Kind of."

She screwed up her face with concentration (like before she poops) and asked, "Who's your teacher?"

"Professor Danilovichski."

"Is he nice?" she asked me.

"Yes, he's pretty nice."

"Does he give you stickers?"

"No, he doesn't give me stickers," I told her.

"Maybe you should play nicer. Do I need to talk with him?" she said sternly.

"No sweetie. Grown-up schools aren't like that. He doesn't give anyone stickers."

"So what do you do on the playground?"

"There is no playground," I told her.

"Oh," she said, finally comprehending, "You were bad so you go to a bad school. You can have some of my stickers, to make you feel better."

What could I do? I'll be the only one in my class with Dora stickers on his economics textbook.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Back to School I: Goofboy meets PowerPoint

My son headed back to school. The day before starting, they had a brief orientation day and since Goofgirl's school was also on hiatus she came along.

Orientation, we were told, includes a PowerPoint presentation. My daughter got excited, "PowerPoint Daddy! PowerPoint. I like PowerPoint!"

Little did she know.

So the parents, the kids, the teachers, and a few random people seeking stale cookies (including my daughter) sat in first-grade desks while the teachers explained what our children would be doing all day. Then the lights dimmed.

The PowerPoint described our children's schedules in excruciating detail (10:11 - 10:13 AM, locate places for circle time, 10:13 - 10:15 laugh at underwear exposed as children sit on the floor...)

The Powerpoint presentation explained, The School's Philosophy of Education in approximate 208 points. The presentation broke these down into Objectives, Goals, Themes, Values, and Capabilities. All of this was punctuated by pictures of very cute children (who I did not recognize from school) hugging each other. This was in sharp contrast to the children before me who couldn't keep their fingers out of their noses and ears.

There was some detailed discussion of the school's facilities, including locker dos and don'ts (no drugs - no firearms, but nothing about porn.) The grand finale was a reminder of where we should send our tuition checks.

I don't know if this has been studied, but PowerPoint has pretty much the same effect on kids as it does on adults. My daughter, my son, and his classmates were snoring softly. A great way to make a bunch of first graders be quiet.

We'll add it to their bedtime routine: a 37 slide presentation on Why it is Bedtime Now.

Friday, August 31, 2007


Although I am full-grown (and perhaps still growing a bit in the wrong places) and appear - on first glance - to be a reasonable sort of adult, internally (despite having two kids of my own) I am still the gawky awkward 13 year old that everyone loved to hate. Some people, after a certain age, turn 39 every year. I was born 13 (it may seem impossible, but I was a moody, awkward, and inappropriate baby - somehow I just pooped at the worst possible time) and expect to stay 13 well into my 80s (when no doubt I will continue to poop at the wrong time.)

Yet women who look a great deal like they should by my mom's friends - that is women I am inclined to be deferential towards - come to me and ask my thoughts on things at playgrounds, ice cream shops, dog runs and other places people with children congregate. They ask my thoughts on area schools, entertainment activities, and products for children.

I answer politely (while wondering how they can possibly take my thoughts on anything seriously). Then they walk away nodding thoughtfully and I think, "I sure fooled them, they must have thought I was an adult - maybe I could get away with buying beer..."

Oddly, an alarming number of these moms have facial tattoos and tongue studs. None of my mom's friends had these accessories.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Latte Lessons

This may be obvious, but I learned it too late. No matter how much your child begs, do not give them a sip of your latte. Especially if it is just before boarding a cross-country flight.

Their little bodies cannot process caffeine and a five year old rocketing around an airliner at full speed could potentially be a hazard to civil aviation. You do not want to be responsible for the ensuing forced landing.

Trust me on this one, really.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Themes for Toilet Training

My daughter is learning to use the potty. This is a momentous occasion, and like all denouements requires dramatic theme music. After much discussion, in which both my son and daughter had votes, we selected Take it Easy by the Eagles.

My daughter ascends to her throne and tenses up as she tries to impress us (and earn a pez). But going potty shouldn't be a source of tension (in fact for many of us as we age it becomes a comfort.)

"Remember your song," I gently instruct and her little voice begins to warble:
Well I running down a road
to loosen my load
I got seventeen in my mind...

"Good job sweetheart, now..." I encourage and join in until she yells, stop daddy no singing.

Take it easy, take it easy
Don't let the sound of the big wheels
Drive you crazy
Lighten up while you can
Don’t try to understand
Just find a place to make your stand
And take it easy
It's the perfect song. All the right themes. I just hope I haven't set off anything Pavlovian where as an adult this song will give her such an uncontrollable urge to loosen her load that it may just drive her crazy.

I on the other hand will never again be smitten by a girl in a flatbed Ford.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

How to vote for me for the Blogger's Choice "Hottest Daddy Blogger"

The folks at Blogger's Choice have made voting extra hard. Normal, reasonably computer savvy people have been challenged to get their votes in. I wonder if Blogger's Choice is based in Florida?

Anyway, here is the full list of steps necessary to get your vote logged in. It is a hassle, and I am grateful for your follow through.

1. Go to the For Father's Only page on Blogger's Choice and click vote. It will ask you to either login or create a new account.

2. Fill out everything in the application (you can leave city and picture blank.)

3. They will send you an email (possibly in seconds, shouldn't take more than 30 minutes.)

4. Click the link in the email.

5. Click for your account page to complete registration

6. Put forfathersonly in the search bar and search.

7. Select it under the category "Hottest Daddy Blogger."

8. Vote - finally.

Thanks for staying with me through this. They don't make it easy.

A Sister's Envy

Like good, modern parents we carefully limit the amount of television our children see. With the exception of the occasional Scooby Doo marathon (I still argue it is educational) television is doled out my children in minute doses - the way most parents regulate candy or cookies.

Consequently, following the proven maxims of the economics of childhood, scarcity leads to jealousy. This explains why when I picked my daughter up from daycare the other day, but without her brother in tow, she looked at me suspiciously and asked: "Where's my brother? What's he watching?"

Friday, August 03, 2007

Lessons from the Hive

"Daddy, today we learned about bees in science at camp," my son told me.

"Really, what did you learn?"

"Well worker bees are girls and do all the work. The boys are drones and they don't do anything, they just hang out with the queen."

"Neat," I told him.

"Daddy, are you a drone?"

"Sure, I guess so," I said, playing along.

His look became serious and he said, "That's too bad. I'll miss you Daddy."

"I'm not going anywhere."

"When winter comes, the worker bees kill all the drones and toss them out of the hive. So enjoy the nectar while it lasts Daddy drone."

Monday, July 30, 2007

Brush with Evil

Speaking of baseball, my son asked me if the Yankees are a good team.

"Yes," I told him, "They are one of the all-time great baseball teams."

"Good," he said, "I like the Yankees. They're great."

I sat down and pulled him into my lap. I spoke gently, "As you grow older there are many things we will not agree about. But despite this, I'll still love you. I will love you if you decide you don't like your faith or prefer wine over beer. I will love you if you become a Trotskyite..."

"Like Pop?" my son interrupted.

"Right, like Pop. I will even love you if you decide to use PCs instead of Macs."

"What if I prefer the new Star Wars to the old ones?" he asked.

"Even then, as much as it would pain me," I told him, my voice still gentle.

"But if you become a Yankees fan," I continued, my voice darkening like a sudden summer thunderstorm:

"I will have no son!"

"Dad, I'm just kidding," he laughed, rolling his eyes at me. "I like the Orioles. Can we go to a game?"

"What spend forty bucks to see them, they stink."

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Summer Afternoon

My son and I are playing catch. At six he can catch it often enough and throw it more or less to me. My wife bought him a starter glove and a hardball (not quite a baseball, but it makes a smack when it lands.) My wife dug my old glove out from somewhere, it hasn't been used in at least 15 years. The signature on it is Robin Yount (great Brewers shortstop back in the 1980s.)

I toss it to him gently, underhanded. Sometimes I forget myself and throw it a little too hard. I cringe, but he surprises me, cooly stopping it before it slams him in the face.

My daughter, for once, has relinquished the soap bubble pipe and is letting my wife create giant spheres. My daughter shrieks with joy as she chases them across our sun-dappled backyard.

Soon my wife and our children, who inherited her sweet blood, will feel the effects of the mosquito assault. Tomorrow I will wake up with tense shoulders and wonder if I need arthroscopic surgery (like Tommy John had back when I was a kid.)

But not quite yet.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Making the Most of Your Video Camera

Tip #1: Plan

If you want to get good videos of family activities, you need to plan. It may have worked for Goddard and Trauffaut, but unless you are a French realist, cinema verite makes for boring family videos. The children are guaranteed to not do anything interesting or amusing when the camera is on. Not only is the French realist approach to family videos dull, it is also hazardous. As you are trying to unobtrusively follow your children, staring at them through a video camera, you are likely to miss all of the obstacles on the floor of any child dominated home. The video – through your eyes – of your fall makes for terrifically honest filmmaking. It can also hurt.

On the other hand, pulling out the camera when the kids are doing something adorable is guaranteed to stop whatever they were doing that was cute. You will get a video of your children milling about listlessly, like people waiting for a subway, with your voice repeating over and over – “C’mon, sing “Woolly Bully” again – just one more time for Daddy.” A good approach if you want your family movies to resemble Last Year at Marienbad (94 minutes of enigmatic narrative structure…)

Seriously, plan a modest activity that is worth being filmed – a snowball fight, catch, a round of wrestling, or Mommy’s face when she sees the mess you and the kids have made.

Tip #2: Pan Out

The other thing to know about video cameras is that among a swarm of children, you may not be able to pick out your child (particularly if they are all dressed the same.) Consequently, you may inadvertently have a 20 minute close-up of some child you don’t know singing his heart out at the “Flag Day” concert. This will be extremely embarrassing for you, and devastating for your child. Do a lot of wide-angle crowd shots.

This will come out better than you think. On the little screen on your camera it never looks like you get enough of your kid, so you do a lot of close-ups. But that same image, tiny of the video camera, will be huge on a TV. Also, kids move around a lot in unpredictable directions, like Robert Downey, Jr. Trust me, pan out!

Also, just a heads up, videos of kids’ pep rallies (particularly when the kids are all dressed in school colors) can have a weird Triumph of the Will vibe – that is if the Hitler Youth fell down a lot and did the “Hokey Pokey.”

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Milestones: Father Goof's Birthday Thoughts

Father Goof just suffered through a birthday last week. It was a tough one as I have officially left my mid-thirties and entered my late ones. Then it is on to forty and middle-age. (Although I hear 50 is the new 40, I also hear 90 is the new 80.)

To cheer myself up I thought about what I've really achieved in my short (but, in the opinion of many, too long) time on this mortal coil. Two achievements stand out.

When you go to a supermarket and there is a sign by the produce scales that reads, "This scale is for produce ONLY!"

I did that. When he was an infant I would take my son to the supermarket and weigh him. Then for "fun" I would calculate how much he would cost if he were cucumbers ($10.36), tomatoes ($15.11), or shitaake mushrooms ($77.43).*

Now I know what you are thinking (assuming it isn't: those are great prices on cucumbers), "Why?"

I can't say I have an answer - although it was an excuse to get out of the house and take a walk and while I was there I also bought cookies. Anyway, I was firmly told to cease and desist. It probably didn't help that we played it like a little gameshow and I would try to involve other customers (I used a broccoli tree as a microphone.)

I think if it hadn't been for the gameshow bit maybe they wouldn't have cracked down so hard and other people could have used the scales quietly to weigh their children. I notice these signs at almost every super-market. So, sorry I ruined this for everyone, but now I can take my son to supermarkets, point to the sign and proudly tell him we did that together.

My other big accomplishment is more positive. When you go to a movie theater the doorman will dutifully inform you that "The Concession stand is straight ahead."

I invented that - sort of. In college I worked at the Loews Theater at Copley Place in Boston. Most of the guys wanted to be ushers because you could linger in movie theaters, sneak snacks of popcorn and soda, get high in the bathroom, and hide if any actual work was needed. Good points, but I wanted to help people. So I would volunteer to be doorman. When people came up, in addition to telling them where their movie was, I would announce, "The recommended candy for your movie is..."

And if pressed I usually had some rationale. And people would do it. I would suggest Toblerone as the recommended candy for "Look Who's Talking Too" (I believe I told them the nougat would counter-act the grating impact of Roseanne Barr's voice coming out of a baby) and people who had never tried anything more sophisticated than Goobers would suddenly become fans of more cosmopolitan Eurocandy.

I had an impact. I got people to try new things. By telling the customers there was a candy choice that would make their specific movie choice better - I made their movie theater experience that much better. I was more than doorman - I was a sugar sommelier.

One day then Vice President of Loews, Harry Goldwater (and yes we did follow him around muttering "...extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice! ...moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue."

He thought it was a great idea. But of course the squares at corporate got hold of it and turned my creative, empowering idea into a bland reminder that there were calories to be consumed up ahead.

Still - I started it. Some small comfort as I begin my slide down the slippery slope...

* While writing this I called up to my wife, "Honey, what is the funniest vegetable?"

"I don't know," she yelled back, "Cauliflower? Arugala maybe?"

"Thanks, do you want to know what I'm doing?"

"No, not one bit." So you can see why I need to cherish what achievements I have, however modest.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Getting the Most Merry-Go-Round

Since Merry-Go-Round rides aren't free, you want to get the most for your amusement dollar. Think back to high school physics - think torque: "This force is defined by linear force multiplied by a radius."

So if you are on the outside of the Merry-Go-Round your kid is having more force applied, traveling more distance in the same time (i.e. faster) and just getting more fun overall for your $4.50.

On the other hand, if your kid is prone to motion sickness don't forget your torque. Sit the kid on the inside where he or she will be less ravaged by the vicissitudes of cruel physics, otherwise the Merry-Go-Round might make your kid torque!

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Father's Day III: The Take

I guess my T-shirt says it all.

It was all the joy of a Denny's heap o'egg, meat, and French Toast, but without leaving the house. Actually it was better, since I require fake veggie sausage, the pleasure of which Denny's denies (yet another reason to prefer dining at home to dining at Denny's - as though further reasons were necessary.)

Actually, come to think of it, there's more. You can't see what's in my coffee cup. My wife thoughtfully bought me this:

Yet again, recommended by The Wall Street Journal, this little device froths milk - an easy way to turn a coffee into a latte!

I've long feared a Starbucks might open in my living room (not a bad business move for them since I work at home much of the time and often need little pick-me-ups - the fear is my eyes would explode from over-caffeination). Now, I've pre-empted them and this morning I enjoyed the best of Denny's and the best of Starbucks rolled into one - a DennyBucks morning.

The best feature of the aerolatte is that it is small and portable. I'll be adding it to my utility belt - along with my celphone, my bottle opener corkscrew, my laser pointer, and my awl. It may get its own holster.

Later in the day, I took it to a Starbucks, ordered a regular coffee and frothed it myself. The barristas hated that. Then I asked for a cup of water and frothed it - to clean the aerolatte - just to pour salt in the wound.

OW! My Back! Get off!

Father's Day II: License to Wrestle

The Wall Street Journal's Work & Family column by Sue Shellenbarger reports on studies showing:
...fathers have an additional impact, over and above that of mothers. Also, men have a tendency to behave differently with children. After defining good parenting for decades as what warm, nurturing mothers typically do, researchers now are also beginning to see how behaviors characteristic of fathers can shape children too.

Fathers tend to engage kids in more rough-and-tumble play, for example. Researchers say this can have a powerful positive impact on children, fostering curiosity and teaching them to regulate emotion and enjoy surprises.*
Cut through the jargon: wrestling and goofing off are good for kids! YES!!!

These are the areas were dads excel. I always viewed it as a practical matter. It seems counter-intuitive, but wrestling is less exhausting than most other father-child activities. "Candyland" is not physically demanding, but after Game 2 of the "Candyland" World Series I am ready to slash and burn the candy cane forest. But wrestling is easy. You usually don't get off the floor, you just toss them around a bit. When you get tired, you just lie down and they jump on you a little. Mine are still small enough that they don't do much harm (when the get close to 100 lbs. the physics change.) But don't let on. You can use the "hurt back excuse" to get out of mowing the lawn for a couple days.

Mom always frowns on this - it makes the kids wild and encourages aggressive behavior. Now, a renown source tells us this is exactly what we should be doing. We are fulfilling our biological and social mandates as teachers. We are preparing our children to interact with an exciting world. So, in that vein, I'll spend the afternoon teaching my children. My daughter has a drop kick with real potential (to annoy my wife.)

Another pointless goof-off game at our house is "bump heads". Pretty much like it sounds, mom hates it (especially when she hears the disturbing thump of my children and I bashing our skulls together.) But it is just goofing off, and it will serve them well come rutting season.

Random tickle attacks, pouncing, running around the house yelling, "La la la!" and just severe cases of what my son calls, "Goofing out" are now recognized as healthy, development activities. What could be a better Father's Day Gift than an endorsement of what dads do best?

* This is echoed by this report on CNN.

Father's Day I: Revelations from the Muck

Many dads remember the first time they gazed upon or held their child as a transformative moment.

For me, changing my son's diaper was that moment. I suddenly understood my own father. My father fancies himself a leftist radical (although his day job is as a real estate attorney – small practice specializing in condominiums – and he gets twitchy about increased regulation of the homebuilding industry).* I have moved away – nay fled – his worldview. He took my heated arguments with a placid magnanimity. Now that I’ve changed my son’s diapers I see why. No matter what I do or say, he will always remember picking poop out of my tuchus. Whatever I say or accomplish, my father sees it as just more of the same.

When my children decide to reject everything I believe (perhaps by becoming evangelical Christians who belong to PETA) I will remember changing their diapers and think of their fads of the moment as more of the same.

*Also, he never had radical hair. That may have been prudence, but I believe it was really genetics.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Downtime with Dad

There have been a bunch school breaks lately which means more time with the kids for yours truly. This in turn means more time for the kids in front of the tube. Their recent favorite has been Scooby Doo. I consider this educational TV, since it teaches children to be skeptical of the supernatural and that unexplained phenomenon are usually just the machinations of greedy real estate developers. Also, it shows them that a bunch of kids can in fact make a difference, and they see Scooby and Shaggy face their fears (primarily by eating.)*

The other day they saw an episode where the Mystery Van went to Mexico, so they got to learn a little bit about their mother's heritage. Now my daughter, like so many other Mexican children, is deathly afraid of the chupacabra (literally - "goat sucker.")

So after a long day of day of daddy and Scooby Doo re-runs, when mom got home the kids couldn't wait to tell her about it (and be in the presence of a rational adult).

"Mommy, mommy, the doctor witch! He scary," my daughter began, happily (children are often confused between fear and joy). My wife looked at her quizzically. My son filled in the details, "On Scooby Doo there was a witch doctor. He was really a man who wanted to build condominiums. Pop helps work on condominiums. Daddy says that sometimes pop disguises himself as a witch doctor..."

My wife glared at me, "Why do you tell your children bizarre stories about your father?+ Forget it, why are you letting the children watch shows that scare them?"

She pulled the children close to comfort them, "What did the witch doctor do that was so scary?"

My children leapt up and chanted:
Ooo eee, ooo ah ah ting tang
Walla walla bing bang
My wife glared at me. My son announced, "Daddy taught us that!"

My wife, her voice filled with menace, asked, "Did he now?"

"Yeah, and I would have gotten away with it if it weren't for those meddling kids!"

* My theory about Scooby Doo is that there were no monsters. It was just a bunch of kids driving cross-country. But Shaggy was in the back baking, this would explain their constant hunger.

+ My father is a real estate attorney. However, when I was little he was an engineer and he worked for a railroad. I thought that he drove trains. When I learned that he was a different kind of engineer, that primarily sat in offices and used sliderules (this was the 1890s) I was devastated and I've always held this against him. Nonetheless, my creative descriptions of his work have only made him an exotic hero to his grandchildren. Now, my son hopes to go into real estate development and wear monster suits to scare off other bidders, environmentalists, and other obstructionists. Sure - you can use eminent domain - but it just isn't as fun. (Plus, I think he hopes to meet Daphne.)

Star Wars Spinoffs

Tired of just re-hashing scenes from the Star Wars movies, my son and I developed some spin-offs to play. One games is: No Padawan, about the dumbest apprentice in the Jedi Order. I play the bumbling apprentice, always moving objects inappropriately with the Force, not properly securing my light-sabre (and cutting off my toes), and talking too much. My son plays the wise, but frustrated master who has to admonish me for my failing. When I really mess up (like the time I told the Boba Fett where the Jedi attack team was hiding) he chases me around, sounding like the Skipper yelling, "Padawan" and trying to bonk me on the head with the foam sword we use as a light sabre. If there were national tournaments for Alan Hale impressions my son would definitely win the kindergarten division (and probably the entire elementary school league.)

My son likes this game because of the role reversal. It prepares me for his teenage years when I will, invariably, do everything wrong. When he whines at me, "Daaaad!" I hope he'll use the Alan Hale voice.

The other Star Wars based game we play is Jedi Chef. This is about a Jedi who uses his light sabre to cook things. He can slice and cook a turkey at the same time. Give him a loaf of bread and it will arrive sliced and toasted. (He's working on an attachment to dispense butter.) Also, instant French Fries. You'd think they would make vegetables dry and unpalatable, but at the right setting - veggie crisps!

It's a pretty cool show. We use the Force to throw food in the air, slice it with our light sabres and land it on the plates - which are then telekinetically sent to diners. Unfortunately, we never get past appetizers - the show is always interrupted by a battle droid attack.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Sweet Meats

When my daughter was a baby we played a game. I would smell her head. Baby's heads smell like caramel - I don't know why, they just do, but it is wonderful. I mention this often, to the point where my son would tell complete strangers, "My sister tastes like caramel."

So I would hold my daughter in my lap and say, "I'm gonna eat your baby brains! Yum, yum, yum!" and gently gum her head.*

My son walked in during a session. His jaw dropped, his eyes were wide, and he yelled, "Daddy! Don't eat my sister! Save some for me!"

* Tales of parents eating children ancient and are clearly an expression of an archetypal behavior. Perhaps the most famous example (if you are a dork) is how Zeus and the other Greek gods were devoured by their father Chronos. There are many theories about the origins and meaning of this behavior. But if, as I theorize, most baby heads smell like caramel, it would explain a great deal.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Mother's Day Save

Father Goof frequently grouses about the price of his son's private school, but today it paid off. Someone had kindof forgotten to do something nice for Mother's Day for the long-suffering Mama Goof. (Father Goof has never claimed to be a good father, husband, or son - merely an adequate one.)

Thankfully my son, directed by his teachers, had created an array of mother-themed artwork, including the inevitable pasta-oriented jewelry and a heart-shaped card with embracing stick figures. Meant to show familial love, in fact the drawing looked like an angry zebra, drawn by someone who had a profound hatred of zebras. There was another set for Bubbe. Wearing the macaroni elbow necklaces gave the women in my life a weird Polynesian-Italian fusion vibe.

Obviously Father Goof was supposed to buy them some non-chewable jewelry, and he will pay a price for his failure to do so. But at least the mothers received some acknowledgement today, and their wrath will be muted. Now at least private school is starting to pay for itself. All the money I saved on jewelry can go towards tuition.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Geometry of Parenthood

Proposition 20 of Euclid's Book I reads:
In any triangle two sides taken together in any manner are greater than the remaining one.
My old textbook (which my wife has been hounding me to throw out) a footnote remarks that Proclus (another ancient geometer) reported that it was the habit of the Epicureans to ridicule this theorem because:
"Even an ass knows that. If fodder is placed at one angular point and the ass at another, the ass won't walk the two sides of the triangle but just the one side. Booyah."
Proclus would respond,
"Oh no you didn't! Mere perception of the truth is different from a scientific proof of it and a knowledge of the reason why it is true."
It was even more devastating in Greek.

I mention this because the assertion that even the ass knows to walk a straightline shows five year olds in an interesting light. Everyday I pick-up my son and carpool buddy and struggle with their inability to walk in a straight line. For example, when I drop carpool buddy off, rather than making a beeline from my car to his front door he takes an elliptical approach that occasionally takes him into neighbors' yards. So, are five year-olds dumber than asses? "What," Proclus would no doubt ask, "Does this say about the human capacity to reason, about logos?"

Or, are five-year olds brilliant? Just as Einstein shattered Newtonian physics showing that space curves, Euclidean geometry also withered before the assault of modernity. Lobchevsky (yes, the one from the Tom Lehrer song) argued that a line lying perpendicular across two parallel lines does not intersect them at exactly 90 degrees because space curves. So perhaps, when my charges are wandering in what to my, aged eyes are parabolic routes they are in fact simply perceiving the curves in space and navigating them.

Or they could just be a pair of dumbasses.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Trouble Ahead

My kids were watching Cyberchase the other day and my daughter announced, "I like Hacker!"

Hacker is the show's villain, he is also green. When she was looking at her brother's Spiderman picture book, she pointed to the Green Goblin and asked, "Who's this?"

"Green Goblin," I told her.

"Is he nice?"

"Not really. He has issues."

"I like him," she announced. I thought nothing of it, she likes green.

But then, she announced her favorite Dora character is Swiper, and on Lazytown she likes Robby Rotten (I admit I was sort of pleased about that - I can't stand Sportacus.)

I noticed a certain trend was forming. When her brother discusses Star Wars (which is constantly) she chimes in, "I like Darth Vader! I like the bad guys!"

I guess I am better off learning this now, rather than when she turns 15.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Swim Lessons

My son’s swim class the other day ended with the instructor asking each student to show her their favorite thing to do in the water. Most kids blew bubbles, floated, or put their heads under. My son just stood their, grinning.

“Aren’t you going to show me your favorite swim move?” the instructor queried.

“I’m doing it!"

"Doing what?" the instructor asked.

"When we go to the beach, my daddy says going pee-pee in the ocean is the best thing.”

Usually the indoor pool where my son takes lessons reverberates with the sonic booms of children shrieking and splashing. But suddenly the entire place fell silent, and everyone stared at me.

“Ha ha. OK buddy, let’s go now,” I said.

“Right daddy, come in and we’ll swim to international waters – then no one can tell us what to do! You can go pee-pee too.”

More stares. Parents pull their children out of the pool. The instructor moves away.

“No, I think you are getting cold. Why don’t we just go… RIGHT NOW!” I added through clenched teeth.

“No, daddy, come in! The water is really warm!”

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Passover Preparations

Traditional Passover preparations at my house have usually my son and I huddled together watching the Charlton Heston version of The Ten Commandments while my wife does the last minute cleaning (it is essential that every bit of chametz - bread product – be removed from the home.) My wife, understandably, hates this tradition for many reasons. However, my son has now been doing it for most of his life (this will be his fourth year of it) so she is stuck with it. I was doubly excited because my daughter just turned three and would have been ready to join us. Naturally the networks have decided not to air it – further evidence of the moral and spiritual decay of our society.

Fortunately, my family has other, even deeper Pesach traditions. Many families at their seder (traditional Passover feast) sing a song called “Who knows one” (usually sung in Hebrew “Echad mi yode’ah”). It goes:
Who knows one? I know one. One is our God, in heaven and on earth.
Who knows two? I know two. Two are the tablets of the covenant; One is our God in heaven and on earth.
And so forth to 13. You want more, Google it.

In my family we sing this song in Yiddish. Very occasionally, we run into others who also know the Yiddish version (although never with the same tune). I decided that my son is old enough to learn it as well. Like all things Yiddish, this had to start with a story:
My grandfather, your great-grandfather, your bubbe’s daddy, was named Bernie. When you were born, all of your great-great aunts said you looked just like Bernie. When your sister was born, the same great-great aunts agreed that she looked like Bernie. The truth is, most babies look like Bernie - Bernie was fat and bald.

When he was a little kid he went to Hebrew school, but it wasn’t nice like your school. It was grubby and the one thing he learned that really stayed with him was this song. You told me you are learning “Who knows one” in Hebrew. At his Hebrew school, Bernie learned the song in a language called Yiddish.
So I sang him a little bit of it, and my son burst out laughing (an appropriate reaction to Yiddish – a language with a disproportionate amount of onomatopoeia.) It also threw him a little; he thought Hebrew was the Jewish language. I explained:
You know about Hebrew, the holy language, the language of Israel and Torah. Yiddish is different. For centuries lots of Jewish people lived in the great Northern Plains of Europe. It wasn’t a happy time. It was cold, boring, and the people around us didn’t like us very much. The governments there liked us even less. Many terrible things happened to us there. You should be grateful everyday that your great-great grandparents left.

But, as a tiny gift to make up for it, God gave us the funniest language ever spoken – Yiddish. That funniest thing about Yiddish is that it is so close to German. But German is a serious language – a language where, “Good morning” is a direct order. In Yiddish, even though a lot of the words are the same and if you know one you can understand the other, everything sounds like a joke. They are the Bert and Ernie of languages. There’s Bert, wound too tight, worrying about his bottle-cap collection. And then there’s happy-go-lucky Ernie getting the bottle-caps out of order, scaring off the pigeons and just generally driving Bert nuts.

”Like I do to you daddy?”
This is a kid who is ready for Yiddish.

So, without further ado, here is “Who knows one” in Yiddish. It should be sung with great fervor. Because Yiddish was the Ebonics of its day, there are few hard rules about pronunciation and you can make up any tune that suits you. (I will spare the world my own rendition.)


Mah ah noymair
Mah ah debair

Oy vey ny ny na ny ny

Vair ken raidin
Vair ken tsailin

Vos is ____ bah dye
Vos is ____ bah dye

1. Ainer is gutt un gutt is ainer un veiter is kainer
2. Zvei zenen dee luchus
3. Drei zenen dee footers
4. Fear zenen dee mooters
5. Finif zenen dee chumushin
6. Zex zenen dee mishnayes
7. Zeben zenen dee taic frum vuch
8. Acht zenen dee brit meilah
9. Nine zenen dee moonaten
10. Tzen zenen dee dibrayes
11. Elef zenen dee shtairen
12. Zvelf zenen dee shevawteem
13. Dreitzen zenen dee ashawreem

Friday, March 23, 2007

Sippy Cup Smugglers

Another dad and I were talking about flying with kids. I was cursing the shoebomber who made it a requirement that we take off our shoes when going through airport security. When managing a couple of kids and all of the six hundred items necessary to amuse and soothe them on a cross country flight - the last thing anyone needs is to be tying their shoes. I can't bend over to tie my shoes since the backpack I wear on flights is filled with a compressed stuffed animals safari (CSAS to the military-parental complex) in case the kids need comforting on the plane. So I have to kick our bags around the airport till we find a good spot to sit down, while my wife drives the stroller and carries my son in her mouth by the scruff of his neck.

My friend assured me that this was nothing. I haven't flown lately, but the restrictions on liquids are impossible, since a pack of small kids requires require constant infusions of various beverages, medicines, and ointments. Apparently things have gotten so bad that parents are taking a page from the drug cartels and ingesting needed substances in prophylactics.

They are putting the mule back into formula.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Home Decor

With our kitchen done, my very sweet out-of-state sister-in-law gushed, "Oh, your house must be so beautiful now!"

I answered, "The kitchen and bathrooms look good. But the rest of the house still looks like Geoffrey, the Toys "backwards R" Us giraffe, threw up."

Tough Explanations

Weekend before last was a Jewish holiday called Purim. Purim has evolved into a party holiday - adults are encouraged to drink and children wear costumes and get candy. The story behind Purim, like many Jewish holidays is simply "They tried to kill us, they failed. Let's eat."

In the case of Purim, the merriment thinly conceals real terror. Consider this popular Purim song which begins:
Oh, once there was a wicked, wicked man
And Hamen was his name sir,
He would have murdered all the Jews,
Though they were not to blame sir
and ends
The guest of honor he shall be
This clever Mr. Smarty.
And high above us he shall swing,
At a little hanging party.
Adults come to terms with this dichotomy. But this is a holiday for little kids. How do you explain mass murder to a three year old? This comes up frequently in other contexts. My kids see the front page of the newspaper, graced by Zarqawi or Zawahiri (al-Qaeda, brought to you by the letter Z) or the monster of the moment and my daughter says, "He's not nice."

"That's right," I tell her, "He has issues."

So on Purim my daughter tells me, "Haman has issues."

When my son and I discuss the Battle of Trafalgar (I am raising him to be a Trivial Pursuit champion) I quiz, "Why did Horatio Nelson have to stop Napoleon from taking over Europe?"

"Because Napoleon had issues."

Friday, February 09, 2007

Back Country

Speaking of doctors...

My back is sort of an unknown territory to me, like Newfoundland but without the dogs. I've never really been there, so I don't think about it much. My wife however frets over it and keeps me updated on various happenings. The geology of this region apparently very exciting. Formations change, new features erupt. I listen to her descriptions the way I listen to her updates on office politics - just enough to make polite chit-chat.

Finally, she prevailed on me to go the doctor and have it looked at. When she sends me on errands, knowing that I am absent-minded and writing blog entries in my head, she sends along written instructions. But, since I can't see my back, sterner measures had to be taken.

At the doctor's, as instructed, I de-shirted. I am always embarrassed about this since I have the body of a sourdough roll (lumpy and flour colored) and my doctor is a striking woman. (I didn't pick her because she was cute, I didn't even know she was a woman. I mostly picked her because she has a funny name. I vote that way too.)

The doctor looked at me and asked, "Why are numbers and arrows written in magic marker all over your back?"

"Because the Post-It notes kept falling off."

Then, handing her a stack of note cards, I added "I almost forgot, here's the legend."

Monday, February 05, 2007

Home HMOs

My daughter has been playing doctor lately. She'll look at me and announce, "You sick, I a doctor!" Then she puts her purple socks on her hands. (She is obsessed with a magazine ad for plastic surgery in which the doctors wear purple gloves. This has been a boon for potty training. We sit her down with the magazine and she concentrates.)

"No be nervous." She announces as she comes over with the "Lil Builder" tool chest. Then she gets out the hammer and starts whacking me.

"Doctor, what do I have that you need to hit me with a hammer."

"Be quiet. Take your medicine," she says sternly, "You sick!"

Then she gets out the drill...

When it is all over, she puts her hand out and says, "Copay!" It is usually a cookie, although if she has to give me a medicine (using her plastic watering can) it is two cookies. The care isn't great, but the price is right and I never have to wait for an appointment.

The other day my son got into the game. He said, "Daddy, let's play doctor. But let's pretend that we are bad doctors and when people come in for help, we just wrestle them."

The three of us saw patients all afternoon. Then mommy made us take naps.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Grown Up Dream

The other night I had an elaborate dream. I had driven my car to Baltimore and parked on Charles St. (this is not strange – I am originally from Baltimore.) I walked around town, with Nancy Pelosi (also not that strange, she is originally from Baltimore too.)

When I returned to my car it was gone but there was a street festival. So Nancy Pelosi and I were eating chocolate* at the street festival as I tried to find out what happened to my car. Finally I found out it was towed and was trying to read the ticket (it can be very hard to read in your dreams). Then I woke up to my daughter yelling, “I want milk, Daddy-Mommy, Mommy-Daddy!”

I went downstairs and warmed up my daughter’s milk, which I gave to my wife to give to my daughter. Then I went back to bed. My wife gave me a withering look (she was outnumbered, in addition to wrestling the little girl our son was running around in his underwear singing, “Jailhouse Rock.”)

I murmured, “I need to get my car back.”

While I did want 15 more minutes of sleep, really I needed closure.

* In a weird premonition I later read that Pelosi keeps her energy level up (she puts in 14 hour days of constant motion – while always looking impeccable) by eating lots of high quality chocolate.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Father Goof's Favorite TV Shows

Since the passing the patriarchal heyday of "Leave it to Beaver," TV dads have pretty much been portrayed as dopes. This casual dismissal of the parenting capabilities of fathers has reached such a point in popular culture that a friend of mine worships a "Swiffer" commercial because it portrays a positive, father figure. Ask him about it, he will discourse on it for a period that exceeds the actual length of the commercial by a factor of twenty (the man needs cable.)

Dads could rail against this, claim discrimination, start pressure groups, and develop complex conspiracy theories about the liberal (Communist) media elites and their secret plot to emasculate the American dad and thereby destroy what makes our society great.

Or... we could use this in our favor. My favorite shows, by far, are "Everybody Loves Raymond" and "Supernanny." Why? Because no matter what I do, I am a way better dad than Ray Barone or the Dads in the dysfunctional families requiring the help of Supernanny (it is always a long-suffering, disorganized mom who isn't getting the help she needs from her self-centered husband - always.)

Often I feel a little guilty for not playing with the kids or being a little short with them (or lying to them that their favorite - read: noisiest - toys are lost, when in fact I buried them in the backyard so I would no longer have to hear the endless warblings from a Wiggles guitar with a key jammed down on "Big Red Car"*). But the feeling passes as I watch Ray Barone lie to his wife so he doesn't have to take his kids to the park or the dad on Supernanny who thought spending time with his daughters was having them watch him ride an ATV around the backyard.

Better, I watch them with my wife. Good to remind her how good she has it.

* Here is a question. The batteries in the children's toys can generate loud noices continuously for weeks on end. I put the same battery into my PDA and it immediately loses power and eats all my contact info. Why do electrons hate me so? Are they sub-atomic children, constantly trying to run away from the nucleus to make trouble while the weary protons and nuetrons are busy trying to generate a weak atomic force to keep atom intact?

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Married Man Makes his Move

“Hey honey, Saturday Night Live doesn’t look any good this week.”

Actually the guest host is Jake Gyllenhaal, and Father Goof can’t hope to compete with that.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Economics of Babysitting

Let's get right to the point: there is no reason to feel guilty about low-balling when negotiating payment with the babysitter.

When I was a teenager I had no life, and was desperate for cash. I babysat (even though I didn't really like kids) and all my friends babysat. This was twenty years ago and I was paid one-fifty an hour. As soon as I was old enough I got a job at a pizza place (and free pizza when I misread orders and made it wrong) for the lordly sum of $3.35 an hour.

Now, baby-sitters in my neck of the woods charge $8 an hour (I was in my twenties before I made that kind of money - although I am employment-challenged.) I don't know why the price of a teenager's time has gone up so much - they seem about as useless as I was at that age. It probably has something to do with MySpace.

Do the math, a nice dinner for two ($40 and 90 minutes) and a movie ($20 including snacks and two and a half hours), add in transit time and you owe the baby-sitter $40. A modest night out suddenly costs a c-note.

And $8 an hour is not the high end. When we took the kids to an out of town wedding the baby-sitter was $12 an hour.

You have one advantage here, teenagers aren't much for market research. The kids already in the business know the prevailing rates. But the ones who haven't babysat before do not. You need to find fresh meat (bar mitzvahs have been particularly rich veins to mine - although not the kid being honored, he is rolling in gifts that day.)

This is a good start, but it could be counter-productive. If every parent is seeking new blood, soon the kids will get wise. Bidding wars, and possibly fistfights, could ensue. We need to form a cartel, before they start one (possibly through networks of friends on MySpace). As a cartel we can set prices and, if necessary, lobby congress to set a maximum wage for babysitters.

Also, if they are going to charge these prices we should make them take credit cards.

One important note - however desperate you are for a night out, do not compromise on your child's security. One kid told us how smart our son was, explaining, "He even beat me at Connect Four." He won't be back.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Kickboxing Confusion

Little Dragons is doing a kickboxing unit. When we told my son he began to cry, so I asked him why and he said, "I don't want to go in a box. What if I can't kick out of it?"

"They don't put you in a box," I told him.

"Oh, so you kick boxes until they break?"

"No, there are no boxes, it's just called that. It is just like karate but with a lot of kicking."

The next day in carpool he told his carpool buddy, "Next time at karate, we do kickboxing!"

"What's kickboxing?"

My son told his friend, "They put you in a big dark box, and you have to kick your way out!"

Carpool buddy started to cry.

Karate Class Etiquette

When my son's Little Dragons class is sparring it is apparently very bad form to cheer. The moms gave me looks when, during a match, I started yelling,"Tumbalo! Tumbalo!" (Spanish for "Knock him down!")

Maybe they were mad because it was two little girls sparring and I forgot the appropriate gender form ("Tumbala," I looked it up when I got home.)

Too bad, it looked like it could have been a pretty good bout.

Wagering is also frowned on. But that curly-haired kid was a sure thing, he moved like a seven year old Jake LaMotta.

I was hoping to get a pool going (although my plans of having my son throw matches proved redundant - he gets his pugilist skills from me.) Anyway, you really make your money on the vig...