Publisher’s note: As part of our anniversary celebration throughout 2017, we will re-print some of our favorites from the past 25 years. These specials are identified with our “25th Anniversary Feature” banner at the top of the page.
This “SUWAT” was originally published in July 2009.
It’s funny what your brain is willing to let stick on the wall up there. When I was about 8-years-old, my then 4-year-old brother and I were waiting in the kitchen for our Dad to make us some popcorn for movie night. This was before microwaves, so Dad was loading up a popcorn maker. For those who don’t know what a popcorn maker is: it’s an electrical appliance that take up a lot of room, due to the large popping area that doubles as a serving bowl. Dad had poured in the oil, the corn, and was putting on the top of the contraption when we stopped him.
“Let’s pop with the top off, so we can catch it in our mouths as it flies through the air,” I yelled.
My brother jumped on board the bad idea train immediately, so my Dad was faced with not one, but two whiny kids making a messy request. It was probably 6:00 p.m., and I’m sure Dad was counting down the minutes to bedtime. I’m sure he was exhausted too, for as a father myself now, I know that getting to the end of the day can tax any man.
“Nooooo,” Dad sighed. “We’re not doing that.”
Instantly, the mood in the room soured. My brother saw the look on my face and attempted to duplicate it: Sadness. Powerlessness. There was a moment of silence, as I tried my best to harness my disappointment and shape it into words.
“When I have kids,” I said, looking up with squinted eyes, to signify the amount of concentration I had put into this, “I’m going to let them do fun stuff like that all the time.”
“Yeaaaaah,” my brother chimed in, in a low voice.
“We’re going to eat popsicles for breakfast! And popcorn will be flying all over the house!” I shouted.
“Yup!” my brother affirmed.
So, I’d like this column to serve as my Official Apology to my Dad. I don’t know if he remembers that moment like I do, but now that I’ve got my own little guy, I get it. Sorry about all that. Popcorn all over the house – pfffffttttt.
That was over 30 years ago, yet I can vividly recall that summer evening in that Indiana kitchen. For some reason, my brain has left that memory completely intact. So, I am trying to use that image as the foundation of all my childhood memories, in an effort to be a better parent.
There was a lot of egregious behavior in my childhood, teenage and young adult years. I spent a lot of time “in trouble” through that era. I may be making a serious mistake by substituting Hambone? for myself in some of those memories. Hambone is my “mini-me” and some of his flashes of temper and attitude are totally me. When I put Hambone in those memories (e.g. starting a fire in an apartment complex trash dumpster) it nearly paralyzes me with fear that the kid isn’t going to live to see double digits.
I’m sure I’m not alone on this, but one of the most difficult things I am always combating as a father is the hypocrisy. When Hambone goes into a volcanic rage because he didn’t get something he wants (say, a popsicle), I have trouble disciplining the behavior.
I want to say, “I understand your pain. I would scream like that too, but let’s see if we can be quiet for a while so we can juke Mommy and sneak some popsicles out of the refrigerator in the garage.”
I usually deliver an empathetic line like, “Yeah, it’s just rotten, buddy, it’s going to be like this your entire life until you move out of here.”
“Hey! – let’s go swimming,” I say with a big exaggeration of the arms, hoping for a distraction.
Hambone has yet to let me know how much better he is going to be as a Daddy. I’m sure he already has some ideas brewing. He will probably come up with some kind of soft ice cream and hot fudge delivery system that runs uninterrupted through a complex sub-freezing food trough that snakes its way through every room in his house. He’s almost four, so the good thing is we’ve got many more years to get all that stuff out and on the bargaining table.
I look forward to the discussions – because I have some ideas of my own that require further exploration, namely the fully automatic maraschino cherry rifle with 100-round magazine, which we will expect “Poppie” (my Dad) to wield.
To prevent preschool ostracizing, this is the name our first son has been given for this column.
— Greg can be reached here: firstname.lastname@example.org.