Sunday, June 19, 2016
Recently my wife and I switched responsibilities, and I took our 5-year-old daughter to her ice skating class with her sister in tow. All was good. We rolled down the windows and rocked out to Kidz Bop and its infectious blends of "Worth It" and "Bad Blood," got to the rink on time and got our ice skates on without any tears, and all without the 3-year-old dropping a crap grenade. #smallvictories
And then at the very moment I thought we were gonna slip into cruise control for the rest of the evening, she inexplicably lost her mind and exploded in tears -- right in the middle of the doorway. While I was consoling my oldest, my red-headed youngest giggled, turned around, and took off running and laughing along the side of the ice rink, a Disney princess doll in each outstretched hand, and destined for God-only-knows where; like a tiny Joker, I think she just wanted to watch the world burn. If there were any parents judging me at that moment, I can't imagine they would have scored me much higher than 3/10. It wasn't pretty.
A few years ago we packed a lunch and took the girls to Cocoa Beach. It was a very big deal for them because it was the first time they'd been to the ocean. When I was younger, I have very clear memories of my mom and uncle throwing McDonald's french fries into the air for seagulls to catch, and how cool I thought that was. Fast-forward 20 years and I thought I had a wonderful opportunity to throw a piece of a sandwich in the air and lure some birds over so the girls could get a better look. What I didn't know was that over the last 20 years those birds had adopted a more aggressive (not nearly a strong enough word) approach to their pursuit of human food, and that feeding them was looked at as more of a required sacrifice than a voluntary donation. In a matter of seconds we had retreated back to the van, the girls were both sobbing like busted fire hydrants, my wife was calling me names that Donald Trump wouldn't even call Rosie O'Donnell, and I was was legitimately considering exiting the van and letting those pterodactyls have their way with me. It was definitely not one of my finer moments as a parent, and even years later when the girls hear anything that remotely makes them think we're going to a beach, they look at my wife and say, "Mommy, we're not gonna let daddy feed those seagulls are we?"
But that's what being a dad is all about. It's about accepting that your're going to try insanely hard to give your kids the best opportunities and experiences that you can, and despite those efforts and the best of your intentions, you will fail -- a lot. So with that in mind I wanted to say thank you and happy Father's Day to my dad, share some of my favorite stories about him, and apologize for the multiple meat grinders I've run that man through.
The first story revolves around the Christmas of 1990. I don't know if I had full-on stopped believing in Santa Clause by the time I was 7, but at the very least I knew that old bastard hid our Christmas presents in my parents' bedroom. Because I'd done my due diligence in the snooping department, I knew that I was getting Super Mario Bros 3 and Zelda II. At 3 AM on Christmas morning I couldn't take it any more and marched my Karate Kid pajama-wearing butt out to the Christmas tree, laid claim to Mario Bros 3, and fired up the television and Nintendo. Dad came down the hallway after about 10 minutes and casually said, "Travis, go to bed." So I got up, turned everything off, and laid down down in bed. But the burning desire inside of me to fly around as Mario in a raccoon suit kept me awake, and so at 4 AM I was back up and at it. Again, dad came around the corner: "Travis, go to bed. Don't make me tell you again." At this point there was an undertone of, what I would consider at this point in my life, acceptable parent rage. I knew then that I was wrong, but I simply didn't care. So, being the renegade that I was, I decided to poke the middle-aged bear with a stick and try one more time at 5 AM. And after a couple of minutes the old man came marching down the hallway like Bowser, turned everything off, grabbed me by the back of my PJs and threw me into bed. I didn't go to sleep, but I was so scared shitless that I didn't roll out of bed until around 8 -- at which time I promptly returned to playing Mario Bros 3.
There was another Christmas in the early 90's where dad walked out with one more gift after we thought we'd ripped through all of the presents: a BB gun. Like Ralphie from a Christmas story, I instantly turned into a stone-cold killer. Growing up on a farm with no neighbors I had all of the space in the world to hang targets around the house to shoot at, and with a gold mine of ticking tetanus time bombs in the form of old, rusty cans, I had a healthy supply of targets. I'd strategically position enemies in the form of paper targets and cans all around the house, and then I'd take Old Blue out and defend our house from the immobile intruders. During one of these shooting sprees I hung a paper target on the lower branch of a sweet gum tree, which just so happened to be located in front of where my parents parked their cars. I came around to that target, squared up my shot, and let it rip. I knew I was fucked the moment I heard the bullet I'd shot at a paper target make the distinguishable ping sound when it hits something else that's metal, because the only piece of metal behind that paper was dad's brand new truck. I went over and took a look, and sure enough there was the perfect indent of a BB, which made it impossible to blame onto anything else. So I did what every other young child would do: I shut my mouth and hoped he wouldn't see it. He noticed a few hours later when we were all getting in the truck to come back home after a fish fry. The ride home was only five minutes, but it felt like an eternity.
So to the man who introduced me to Zero candy bars, bought and ate an entire box of candy bars for a school sale to help my sister meet her quota, believed in me every step of the way, stood by me during every stupid thing I've ever done, showed me what it means to work hard, and encouraged me even when I followed non-traditional paths, thank you for everything. And I'm sorry about getting up super-early that Christmas morning and the BB dent in the truck. Now that I've got kids of my own, I completely understand.