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Simon Says Eat Shit


first published in Salon


first appeared on Father’s Day as the lead article, where it generated some 200 letters calling for my head.  What more discerning readers pointed out was that the piece was supposed to be, um, a spoof…

I rather enjoy having kids. Again.  All over again.  After having two boys with my first wife, to raise to adulthood, having two more boys with my new wife, to raise to adulthood.  Doing the same things.  Mostly the very same things.  Day after day.  Year after year.   


Don’t get me wrong, I’m mostly rapturous about doing it again in my 50s. [see the half-dozen essays under the heading “Mushy Fatherhood Pieces” at my website] And, it goes without saying, I hold them more dear than life itself.  So back off, OK, and let me a vent a little?  As a stay-at-home father whose office is ten feet from the kids’ play zone, might it be therapeutic to tell you the few things I rather ...  disenjoy … about doing it again?       


Bone-dissolving baby wail in lieu of a drum roll, please.  


•     +The devoted attention required for details.+       

I’m one of those dads who’s pretty good at seeing the big picture. Like kids need an inoculation every ten or twenty years or so. It isn’t vital that I be kept in the loop of every detail, say when I’m on the phone trying to assure a prospective babysitter’s mother that there are no molesters in our household while my offspring is talking at me, as follows.       


“You know Chandler?  That kid in my class?  The really really really really really fat one? With the rat tail hair cut?  Who’s a pitcher?  Well, a really bad pitcher?  I mean, he walked 23 batters in a row?  Mostly by pitching to the wrong side of them?”     


Especially when the payoff, when it finally comes, is something earth-shattering like this:   

 “He scraped his knee today.”


•    + Being forced to look at things I don’t want to.+       

It’s not necessarily that I’ve seen it all before. It’s just that, um, yeah, I’ve seen it all before.       

“Dad! Dad! Come quick!  There’s a cigarette butt in the toilet!!!”     

“Dad, whoa Dad, hurry! You gotta see that billboard!  It’s like twenty feet high!!!!”     

“Dad, Dad, I’m not kidding, you won’t believe this!  That guy’s wearing A RED SHIRT!!!


•    +Being forced to look at things I don’t want to two inches from my face. +     

 Nothing against hissing potato bugs, personally.  

•  +Needing to employ painstaking logic to explain things about the world that most civilized human beings understand instinctually.+  

Such as why it’s not advisable to dribble milk on vintage photographs. And so forth.  Do I really need to list them all?

•  Playing games that have lost none of their madcap zaniness since last time around.     

Simon says take two giant steps.       

Simon says do a backwards somersault.   

Simon says eat shit, OK?  

•  Listening to the music of pots banging.+  


•  Listening to the music of pots banging two inches from my face.+


•  +Tripping over squeaky plastic things way way way down at ground level.+       

Why is the floor so far below me this time around? Why does it come up and hit me on the chin so quickly?  Why is it so hard to rise from it, all the way back up to where I belong?  These and many more are questions I have relatively little interest in thinking about.  


•   +I’m too tired to make up a category for this one. And I realize it’s, like, blasphemous?  Doting dads are not supposed to even think such thoughts?+     


But the truth is that, after a lot of soul searching, I’m just +not+ as fascinated as they are to see which part of the fern plant they can spit their fifteenth cherry pit into. I’m also not fascinated by accompanying their mother to the doctor for the annual dose of wisdom, especially when the doctor was a rubber band-chewer my first boys regrettably beat up in third grade, and double especially when there’s a broken stick left by some other child in the waiting room. “Dad! Dad!  Look!  You gotta see this!  A stick!  +A broken one!!!”+     


Speaking of their mother, whom, it goes without saying – so may I forgo saying it from now on? – I hold more dear than life itself:  (1) She +is+ ten or twenty years younger than I.  (2) She +was+ wearing braces when I was experiencing the miracle of diapering my first babes.  (3) She doesn’t +quite+ grasp the notion that the incoming generation is engineered specifically to supplant the outgoing one.  So could someone please gently convince her that she won’t have her union pass yanked if she doesn’t exclaim over each knuckle scab: +“What happened!?  Did it hurt?  Did you cry? Are you positive you don’t need Dad to make his monogrammed dress shirt into a tourniquet?”+     


Bone-dissolving baby wail to signal conclusion.     


And so the question arises.  Am I a grouch this time around?   Just because I will no longer subject myself to any more moon bounce contraptions, preferring to have my center of gravity where I can keep an eye on it? Just because I devise games like chase-the-flashlight-beam where I maintain a sedentary position while they jump about like caffeinated chimps? Just because I cut off less promising questions with unpromising questions of my own?  (“Who actually gives a damn why the WalMart lady didn’t give you a smiley sticker this time?”), or because I’m no longer smitten by the spectacle of Little Leaguers missing every single grounder (get your mitt +down there,+ rubber band-chewer!), or because I no longer find myself gasping when the boys choke on a Rice Krispie – not because I don’t care, but because I am in possession of the readily available yet seemingly arcane knowledge that +it’ll wash the fuck down?+       


Yes, well, I would relish the opportunity to discuss these issues at length. But I happen to be a mite pre-occupied at the moment … by a competition … stand back, please … to see how well I can spit this cherry pit into that fern plant?  Wait, wait, you gotta see this!  I’m not kidding! LOOK!!!

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