Thursday, December 25, 2014

GoofGirl's Magical Christmas

We are pretty Jewish, so Christmas is not a thing for us. I actually had to go out of my way to make sure the little Goofs had basic information about Christmas since they live in a country where about 300 million people celebrate (I didn't work that hard, this primarily consisted of showing them Christmas specials and the terrific Will Ferrell movie Elf.)

In fact, we are so not into Christmas, we often can't even be bothered to do Jewish Christmas (you know, going to the movies and eating Chinese food.) This is for the best, since somehow this has caught on and everyone is doing it. While some may complain that this is ruining a Jewish tradition, I see it as flattery. In the United States Jews are, overall admired and respected, so everyone else figures if the Jews are doing it maybe it's a good idea. (Here's a rundown about our typical Christmas experiences.)

Anyway, I kept joking that everyone couldn't wait to wake up early this morning and see what presents had been left for them under the tree. This was ludicrous on a lot of levels, most notably that the little Goofs were coming off of eight days of presents (and thanks to China even cheap presents are pretty awesome.)

But GoofGirl, took my words to heart and wanted to make sure I got a little Christmas.

"Daddy, there's a present for you under the Christmas Tree!" she announced. "I made the special Christmas wrapping paper myself!"

So this year, I got to open a Christmas present. It was actually something of mine that she wrapped up, but the presents aren't the point. It was the spirit of Christmas.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Knee Football & Remembrance of Things Past

I recently mentioned GoofGirl's surprising prowess on the gridiron. She comes by it honestly, I too had a moment of glory playing football. Well, not football, knee football.

When I was in high school we had a gym teacher who combined the virtues of fundamental disinterest in the standards of his profession with a a great desire to be amused. He was a great football coach. But he was not interested in much of anything else. So rather than go through the standard gym (it's called phys ed now of course) stuff, he would either not pay attention to us at all. The class would just do whatever the hell it wanted - which seemed to primarily to be to throw a ball at me. FUN!

(I should add, this gym teacher inspired my first not-awful comedy bit when I took a stab at being a stand-up comedian: Due to budget cutbacks, the school had to let the football coach teach history. "The equator is the 50 yard line of the world!")

Or he would invent some odd activity to keep him interested. The best of these was knee football. He had the class line up by weight. (I was towards the bottom, weighing in at a solid 108 pounds of raw hormonal nerve.) We then counted off, odds on one side, evens on the other. Knee football is football, but played on wrestling mats and well, you move about on your knees, and tackling can turn into wrestling.

The gym teacher would call out a range of numbers say, 4 through 9, and the guys who counted those numbers would come out - on their knees, odds vs. evens - and play a round of football.

For some reason, that simply boggles the mind, I was fantastic at this game. I caught passes, I wrestled kids down, and I was surprisingly quick running across the floor on my knees. I was called out for three plays and I scored a touchdown each time.

I might have been because I was mostly going up against the other skinny weak non-athletic kids. I don't know. But it was a glorious day.

We never played again.

A sport at which I excelled, no matter how inane, could not be allowed to exist in the world.

Years later, over dinner, I was telling my family about it. They harangue me for stories of my youth, which are we funnier than the youth they are actually living. So I told them about knee football and how awesome I was at it!

Mama Goof looked at me and said, "I wish I had known about this."

"Because it makes me even more awesome," I suggested.

"No," she replied, "I would never have married anyone who played knee football. It sounds so weird."

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Goofy Gratitude

Turkey has been eaten, football has been watched, and drinks have been spilled. Thanksgiving is winding down and I thought I'd take a minute to think about the things for which I'm grateful.

Obviously there are the big things - my freedom from want, my safety and health, my two great kids, and being married to MamaGoof. These are all big things, I should be grateful for them every day (although sometimes I forget.)

But sometimes it is the little things that turn a bad day into a good one, or a good day into a great day. So here are a few little things for which I'm grateful.

Good Guidance Counselors
The little Goofs are sensitive kids who are good at discussing their feelings and troubles. On the whole, this serves them well. If you can discuss it, you can process it, and not let it consume you. (Not that the little Goofs are particularly troubled, but they get upset and anxious - just like any normal person.)

But sometimes it is a bit much for me (and I'm not always helpful).

I try to listen, express concern, and be helpful. But I have my limits. I don't want to discourage this positive (really wonderful) tendency, but sometimes I'm out of gas and just can't give them the attention they deserve.

Fortunately, their school has terrific guidance counselors. Knowing that the burden of listening and absorbing their troubles is not completely on my shoulders is a huge relief. I always want them to tell me what's up, but I almost always also recommend that they talk to the guidance counselors.

No Football
GoofBoy really, really likes football. A LOT! If his school had a football team, he would play on it. Unfortunately, football is an excellent way to acquire concussions. As much as GoofBoy loves to play pretty much every game that exists, genetics ensures that he will not be terribly good (better than I ever was, but not scholarship material.) He is going to make his living off of his brains, and i would just as soon they not be rattled.

Fortunately, I don't have to order no football. His school doesn't have a team, so there is no issue.

Built in Baby-Sitting
GoofBoy is 13. Under Jewish law he is now a man, more importantly under state law he is old enough to stay home and mind his sister. (At 10 she really doesn't need his minding, and in fact she looks after him.) MamaGoof and I are free to go out on weekend nights - or really anytime we want. We have taken advantage of this some, and we will do so even MORE! We can go out to eat, to the movies, whatever we want. We frankly have no idea what to do with our freedom - but we'll learn.

When we leave them, they carefully plan attack strategies should there be an intruder. They array traps and weapons around the house. We live in boring suburbs, but it amuses them.

Sibling Affection
And that brings me to the final little things for which I am grateful. My kids get along. I don't have to worry that if we go out the kids will fight all night. More importantly, it means for a quieter house, the two of them aren't yelling at each other all the time.

To me this is remarkable because based on the relationship my brother and I had, I did not know this was possible. That being said, I wouldn't settle their squabbles. I'd probably just let them fight it out. But, I do appreciate the quiet and that they help each other out.

So those are my small blessings. Think about yours.

Friday, November 21, 2014

GoofGirl on the Gridiron

GoofBoy is obsessed with sports. He runs track and plays baseball. But I am constantly amazed at the depth of his sports knowledge. I know he lives and breathes NFL (he is in approximately 200 fantasy leagues). He also likes baseball. But somehow he is also up on hockey and even University of Maryland sports. I work there and have no idea what the teams are up to.

But GoofGirl, while a big strong girl, has not had quite the affinity for sports. Although in fairness, I think I haven't been as pro-active in finding her team sport activities. (With her brother it was easy, since all of his friends were on teams, most of her friends were not.) But she goes back and forth. She says she'd like to play, but at camp when she was on a team she opted to be a cheerleader instead. (I don't care if she plays sports or not, but I could do without her being a cheerleader.)

But then I hear about PE (the teachers get upset when we call it gym.) She had a dispute with the teacher because she wasn't with her preferred group. She explained, they were playing football. The class divided into a competitive group and a more casual group. The former was all boys and the latter was mostly girls (although I think I would have been in the latter if only that option had existed when I was 10.)

My daughter wanted to play with the boys and the PE teacher wanted her with the casual group. GoofGirl made her case and the PE teacher relented. Not a surprise to me - or anyone that has ever argued with her.

Turns out, she was a real asset. She is still taller than all the boys and thus excelled at defense, knocking down passes. But best of all, she scored a touchdown. The other team didn't guard her, since she was a girl. So they planned play where they passed to her and - TOUCHDOWN!

(GoofBoy gets partial credit, somehow his obsession has leaked into her by osmosis.)

I am very pleased with GoofGirl's academics, and that is what is really important. But somehow, against my better judgment, I am absurdly proud of everything about her football exploits.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Pelicula Attack or Why I don't speak Spanish

The other day, GoofBoy was visiting the Carpool Clan and he kept saying, “I’m so hungry, I wish there was a big plate of fried molcajete to eat.”

Carpool Dad finally told GoofBoy, “You know molcajete is a stone bowl used for grinding stuff.”

“I know,” GoofBoy answered cheerfully, “But my dad loves the way the word sounds so he keeps saying things like that to make my mom crazy.”

Every adult present laughed because – well – they know me.

MamaGoof is a fluent Spanish speaker and yet somehow, despite over 20 years together, I haven’t managed to learn Spanish. It is possible that I am a few scoops short of a sundae. There is plenty of evidence for this theory, but I think MamaGoof has incentives to prevent me from becoming bilingual.

I fall in love with the sound of words, like película. That is the Spanish word for movie. But MamaGoof at the instant she taught me the word, realized to her endless regret, that as soon as I heard it I envisioned a huge pelican with fangs.

(The attached pictures that capture what I see in my head when I hear the word pelicula come from a neat Washington Post article about ancient flying vertebrates and a neat sight called called Kids Dig Dinos - visit them if you actually want to learn something rather than reading my drivel.)

“Aiii! It is el película!” I would scream in terror or, “You know what would be a great película? El Película vs. El Chupácabra!”

The salt in this linguistic wound is of course that película is feminine, so I should, properly, be yelling “¡la película!” in terror (which might be appropriate when we sit down to watch the next Sharknado.)

When I actually try to speak Spanish, the results aren’t much better. Since my Spanish is at the level of a two year old, my conversation is similar to that of a two year old.

¡Yo quiero un oso blanco! (I want a polar bear.)

¿Dónde está el burro? (Where is the donkey?)

¡Yo quiero comer el molcajete! (I want to eat the molcajete!)

As it happens I do speak a bit of Spanish – enough to communicate with children and surprise people. Once when GoofGirl was an infant, we were shopping and MamaGoof headed down an aisle to find something. I stayed along the side with GoofGirl and the cart. A wizened Latino saw my little girl and came up to her and grinned – just looking (a sentiment I certainly understood).

¡La muñeca!” he whispered.

“That’s right, she’s my little doll,” I answered.

His eyes grew huge and he jumped back, exclaiming, “¡El blanco!”

I also issue basic commands to my children in Spanish. One afternoon, while the little Goofs were over at Carpool Clan manor (notice how many of these stories start this way), Carpool Gal asked if I really knew any Spanish.

“Watch this,” I told her.

“¿Que haces niño?”

GoofBoy dutifully looked up, “Nothing dad, just playing. CarpoolGal was unimpressed, “That’s it?” she asked.

¡Ven aquí niño!”

Summoned, GoofBoy ran up to me, “What’s up dad?”

“Nothing buddy, go play.”

CarpoolGal nodded approvingly.

¡Niño, no hagas eso!” I yelled.

GoofBoy, at the other end of the yard looked up, shocked, “Dad, I’m not doing anything! Really!”

“See,” I told Carpool Gal, “I know some Spanish.”

But not too much, and that’s just the way MamaGoof wants to keep it.

Monday, September 08, 2014

Betrayed: Rotten Rice

At the viewing, before my mother-in-law's funeral, I was puttering around on Facebook. (Don't judge - I was a good son-in-law and husband, taking the kids, being supportive - everything I could be. But at a Catholic funeral there can be hours of sitting around. Stepping outside for a stretch to clear my head was well within bounds.)

I saw a post. Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice was offering a signed picture of himself to anyone who made a donation of a certain amount to his anti-bullying charity.

I MADE that donation. I put it in my mother-in-law's name for my son. I told no one.

A few weeks later, GoofBoy came home from a bad day at school to an unexpected package. When he opened it, to find a signed photo of his hero, he was ecstatic. When MamaGoof saw that it was "from" abuelito to her beloved grandson, she cried a little. It was one last gift from a generous, generous woman.

The two Rays were the big heroes on the Ravens, Ray Lewis and Ray Rice. Lewis had his own checkered past and, we encouraged GoofBoy to adore (as only a little boy can) the squeaky clean, hyper-decent Ray Rice. Both little Goofs had "Hey Diddle Diddle Ray Rice up the middle" t-shirts that they wore with pride.

Now I think of that signed photo, and in my mind's eye, it is a steaming pile of crap.

I hope Ray Rice can overcome whatever demons drove him to brutally beat his wife. I hope he turns his life around and becomes the leading advocate against domestic abuse (I know the odds here aren't great).

BUT he beat a woman, that just isn't done. And we loved him because we were sure he would never do something like that.

A steaming pile of crap.

I know of one organization that does important work against domestic abuse. If you are so inclined, a donation can be made here.

Friday, August 22, 2014

FatherGoof on Carpools in the Baltimore Jewish Times

In my real life, I am in the media fairly often. But, for the first time MSM has decided to turn to me as an expert of parenting. This article in the Baltimore Jewish Times quotes me:

“The combination of phone, email and text keeps my carpooling schedule in check,” says father of two Aaron Mannes. “My carpool involves several children in several locations. There needs to be a lot of technological communication going on to make it all work. Some of my biggest questions of the day include, ‘Do I take the minivan?’ and ‘Which child has a doctor’s appointment today?’”

“....Often, I’ll get an afternoon email from working parents asking if I can pick their child up,” he says. “I have run carpools where my kids are not even involved.”
Mannes shares his carpooling adventures in a parenting blog, “For Fathers Only.” Under the pen-name Father Goof, Mannes reveals the comical ins and outs of the everyday dad.
“I’m not going to lie; talking about carpooling is good material for a blog,” says Mannes. “I try to make it both funny and sweet. It is a great way to cap off my day.”
...As great as the new technological wonders are, fathers like Mannes joke about wanting more.
“Through technology, my children always know where I am,” says Mannes. “I am always getting texts asking how close I am, and I can tell them instantly when I am stuck in traffic. I am still waiting for the day when Google makes those self-driving cars. That would make my carpooling life so much easier.”
Read the whole article here.

Being cited in the Baltimore Jewish Times allowed me to conduct a little social media experiment: how long before the GrandGoofs (who live in Baltimore) would hear about this. Turns out, not long. A friend of my mom called within hours, "I saw your son was written up in the Jewish Times, wow! He's pretty famous!"

(Baltimore is kind of a small town.)

The truth is, I do carpool because I am the least gainfully employed and since I work alone, and find driving boring, I need to remain amused. Since I can't listen to my audiobooks in the car with the kids (they just don't care for Anthony Trollope or Makepeace Thackery) and I don't really listen to music, I amuse myself by badgering the children.

Here are a few popular tales from our carpool adventures:

Since our carpool partners are part-Canadian I try to use drive time to educate them about their heritage.

No story is complete without an archenemy, and my carpool foe is a particularly evil little boy I also have my Carpool favorites.

Here is one of my very first stories about carpool.

In the Name of Science
The truth is, that I view carpool as a long-term science experiment. I want to see how much craziness I can introduce to our carpool partners before they decide that carpooling with me is simply not worth it.

So far, it appears the threshold for my antics is very, very high - because if you've got kids, reliable carpool is worth its weight in gold.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Monkwatch! Our Summer Camp Game

Over the summer, when the little Goofs aren't at sleep-away camp, on a family vacation, or lounging around the house binge-watching Sabrina the Teenage Witch (thanks Amazon Prime!), they go to a regular summer day camp.

Day camp is the worst part of their summer, but these things are relative of course - their summer camp is awesome with a combination of low-key sports, creative activities, and just general horsing around. The little Goofs go to Jewish Day School and attend a Jewish sleep-away camp so there is a fair amount of overlap in the kids going. At their day camp they have a whole different set of friends who - shockers - aren't Jewish.

Once I asked GoofBoy about staying in touch with his camp buddies during the year. He was philosophical. "Dad, when I have a friend over we hang for about five hours. But at camp, I hang with these guys for eight solid hours. This isn't like school where we have stuff to do and only hang at lunch. This is camp, we just play and goof off the whole time! So that's like 160 hours, a year of hang-time. Except for maybe Carpool Buddy, I don't see any of my year round friends that much!"

I've said it before, I'll say it again, the kid isn't just smart, he's wise!

Many of their friends go to all kinds of specialty camps for basketball, robotics, you name it. Part of me worries that my kids are falling behind not getting these intensive courses. But on the other hand, they would want separate courses which means extra driving for me. Fortunately, they've rendered the point moot. They want to keep going to their regular summer camp. Why mess with a good thing?

Regular camp has regular overnights. Part of me should be upset that after four weeks away from home, the little Goofs cannot wait to go on the overnights. Is it because home life is so terrible they can't wait to escape it? I don't worry too much about it. After spending a big chunk of the summer completely on my own, I was not thrilled to suddenly have all these people in my house again.

The regular summer camp has an interesting feature, it is next to a Buddhist Center and as we drive in we occasionally see monks in flowing orange robes. They are exotic and inspiring figures, so I instituted Monkwatch - where we try to spot monks. The kids also play when MamaGoof drives, but she doesn't care - it's kind of a daddy thing, I get pretty bored driving carpool.)

Many days there are no monks to be seen. But some days we see one meditating outside. Often there is a monk clearing out the back parking lot with a leaf-blower. Did he do something bad in a past life to warrant leaf-blowing duty? It doesn't seem like a very contemplative role, but that's the point of being a monk I guess, finding serenity and meaning where others cannot.

We've had a number of false alarms. One morning we thought we saw a monk, but it was just a guy in an orange polo shirt. Another afternoon, we thought we saw a monk, bent over working in the garden but as we drove by it turned out to be a traffic cone.

It turns out, the Buddhist center also has special summer programs. Buddhism has dietary restrictions that nicely dovetail with the laws of kashrut, and it would be a great chance to make non-Jewish friends. But no overnights, so the little Goofs weren't interested. Too bad, they'd be adorable in little orange robes.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

The Case of the Haunted Camp: A Cupcake Club Mystery

I wrote this as a letter to GoofGirl at sleep-away camp, where - with a bunch of her friends - she established the Cupcake Club. She complained my story was too long and didn't finish it. I post it here with her permission.


It was just another day at Camp Ramah, full of games and swimming and other activities. The Cupcake Club members were heading to their activities when they saw the Rabbi – he’s in charge of the camp – having a long conversation with a man in a fancy suit they had never seen before.

The Cupcake Club knew better than to eavesdrop (that means to listen in on someone else’s conversation) but they could tell the strange man was doing most of the talking and the Rabbi was just shaking his head no.

It was a fun day and that night there was a special bonfire activity. People were singing and telling stories, when an eerie white shape ran through the camp.

“A ghost!” people screamed. He only ran around for a few minutes but people got really scared. The Cupcake Club team was scared too, but they knew it was important to help out. So they tried to calm down younger kids. Everyone went back to their bunks and the activity ended early. The Cupcake Club discussed these recent events.

“I’m sure it was part of the activities, like a surprise,” ME suggested.

“I don’t think so, because even the counselors seemed scared,” MY observed.

Over the next few nights, the ghost kept coming back, breaking up evening activities and even running by bunks and scaring kids at night. Soon nighttime activities were cancelled. The Rabbi held a special religious ceremony to get rid of ghosts.

One day, as the Cupcake Club headed off to swim, they saw the Rabbi talking to the man in the suit again. They were yelling.

“Rabbi, you are going to have to sell this property. The campers are terrified and parents are starting to worry. You can’t have a haunted summer camp!”

The Rabbi yelled back, “I’ll never sell this camp Mr. Vandersnoot! This is a special place and you aren’t going to build a golf course here!”

“Something fishy is going on here,” said GoofGirl, “And I know just how to get to the bottom of it.”

At dinner the Cupcake Club had an emergency meeting.

“I’ve watched a lot of Scooby-Do, so I know what we should do about this!” GoofGirl began.

“Oh, oh! Can I be Scooby?” AV asked.

“OK, but I have to be Velma,” GoofGirl answered.

“I’ll be Fred,” 3C said, “Because he’s in charge and drives the van.”

“Of course you are. Then MY you can be Shaggy and ME will be Daphne,” GoofGirl directed.

“I don’t want to be Daphne! She’s boring, I want to be Velma because she’s smart!” ME complained.

“Our Daphne will be really smart, just as smart as Velma, ok?” GoofGirl explained. ME nodded. GoofGirl continued, “OK, first two of us will need to distract the counselors so the strike team can sneak out of the bunk and catch this ghost!”

“Oh, I think I can do that!” 3C grinned, “ME, will you help me?”

The girls made their plan.

Back at the bunk, 3C rushed to the counselors screaming, “She keeps taking my pillow! That pillow is my husband, we have a sacred vow!”

ME rushed up, hold the pillow tightly, “The pillow loves me, and I love it! We should be together!”

They began bickering and GoofGirl, AV, and MY quietly sneaked out of the bunk while the counselors tried to settle the great pillow divorce.

Outside, using hand signals, GoofGirl directed the strike force to the bunks for the little kids. She had figured out that since they scared easier the ghost would go there to really spread panic.

They found a good spot and MY (a skilled gymnast) climbed up a tree with strong branches, while AV hid behind it. GoofGirl walked farther out on her own. She was wearing bright clothes and her headlight. Soon she heard and eerie noise – it was the ghost!

It looked like a big white cloud floating through the woods. It came towards GoofGirl. She began running. She knew the ghost was following her.

When she got to the tree where her friends were hiding she turned and faced the ghost. She was scared, but she knew she had to do this. The ghost was almost right on top of her making spooky sounds, but when GoofGirl stood her ground the ghost stopped, almost confused.

Then MY flicked on a powerful flashlight surprising the ghost and AV burst out with a yell and rammed the ghost full speed with her head! It fell over and started yelling.

The white sheets fell off!

“MR. VANDERSNOOT!” GoofGirl yelled. All the noise had woken up the whole camp. Kids, counselors, and the Rabbi were all there.

“That’s right!” Vandersnoot said, “I was going to scare you all out of here so they’d sell off the camp and I could build a luxury golf course! And I would have gotten away with it if it weren’t for you meddling kids!”

Sunday, July 27, 2014

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

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

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

She's very much my daughter!

"Like a battlefield?" I asked, hopefully.



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What kinds of things do you find?”

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

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

“What’s a good day for you?”

And so on.

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

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

Friday, July 04, 2014

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

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

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

And what am I doing to celebrate this freedom?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Father's Day Demotion

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, April 07, 2014

Canceling Friday Night Fights

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, March 31, 2014

Monsters University Weltanshauung

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Told you, Monsters University really creeped me out.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Learning with GoofGirl


"What nina?"

"I shouldn't say this..."

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

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

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


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

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

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

"I knew I shouldn't have said anything"

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

Well done, Nina, well done.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

GoofGirl Studies Astronomy (Best Read Out Loud)

Several years ago GoofGirl came home from pre-school, proudly announcing with a seriousness that only a four year old can muster:
We are studying astronomy and everyone had to choose a favorite planet to learn about.  I picked Uranus.

Uranus is a gas giant.  Did you know Uranus has rings?
Hey, what's so funny about Uranus? Stop laughing, don't you want to hear about Uranus?

OK then, I'll continue.  Uranus is blue-green colored and most of its atmosphere is methane gas.

What is wrong with you. Get off the floor and back in your seat so I can tell you about the moons of Uranus! Why aren't you proud that I know so much about Uranus?

But that's the name of the planet, my favorite planet. If you can't discuss these things without giggling maybe you aren't grown up enough to study astronomy.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Father Goof Eaten by Tigers in India

SUBURBAN MARYLAND - While visiting India, FatherGoof, father of two, a resident of suburban Maryland, was eaten by a tiger. This is the first such incident since India launched its world renown tiger preservation efforts. According to the safari guide, FatherGoof actively sought to be eaten by the tiger, taking the safari three times in order to ensure he would come into contact with the elusive predator.

"He kept saying that it was his lifelong dream to be eaten by tigers. I thought he was joking, and stopped listening after a while," the safari guide, who's identity is being protected to prevent retribution, explained, "But when we finally found a tiger, he jumped out of the jeep and ran after the tiger yelling, 'Here kitty, yummy, yummy.' At first the tiger didn't seem interested, but he poured barbeque sauce on his head and chest and the tiger finally ate him. It didn't seem very hungry, more annoyed."

The incident threatened to further damage relations between the U.S. and India, but after a full investigation both nations determined that it wasn't really anyone's fault. The Indian tourism bureau, in an official statement explained, "Our tours of tiger preserves are completely safe. But if a tourist is deadset on being eaten by a tiger we really cannot prevent it."

A State Department source who preferred not to be identified showed reporters documents showing that FatherGoof had discussed his interest in being eaten by a tiger to U.S. diplomatic authorities on several occasions.

A Close-Knit Community Unsurprised

At the close-knit community of parents and students at the Jewish Day School where the little Goofs attend school, there was little surprise or despair that a community-member had been eaten by a tiger.

His wife MamaGoof observed, "Well I'm surprised. He was always talking about all these things he was going to do. He said he was going to build a catapult so he could hurl the kids to school and wouldn't have to drive carpool anymore.  He said he would finish his dissertation and get a real job.  He said he would do laundry.  He never did any of those things.  So I'm surprised he actually did this."

Several friends of the family noted that he had posted on Facebook and Twitter that "I'm going to India to fulfill my lifelong dream of being eaten by tiger" but that he posted "lots of crazy stuff on Facebook" so they didn't pay much attention, except to forward it to one another.

One student, with a pronounced Jewfro who claimed to be a good friend of his son GoofBoy stated, "FatherGoof is awesome. He was always telling us crazy stories in carpool, like the time he was giving blood and made the bag explode. Plus he blasted Tom Waits and translated Spanish radio for us. Now he was eaten by a tiger, that guy is amazing, like the coolest dude in 7th grade."

Sources confirmed that at the time of his devouring FatherGoof was in his forties and was not fluent in Spanish.

One friend of the eaten was distraught.  She was seen running around the Lower School campus, crying, pulling her hair and tearing her garments.  She was yelling, "My carpool husband! Who's going to pick up my kids now!"