Father’s Day means I will eat grilled meat. I eat grilled meat on days that aren’t Father’s Day, of course, but all the bad stuff, such as the carcinogens and cholesterol, will simply evaporate in the smoky goodness wafting from the grill. Or so I’ve been told. By myself.
Now, since it is Father’s Day, it goes without saying that this column will be about fathering. (“Oh great,” the audience moans, “another 900 words of self-indulgent falderol. Pass me section B, please.”)
But wait. After some intense editing, this column is entirely free of any “Wonder Years” style of self-actualization or child-induced enlightenment. In fact, this column is more of a confession, really. It is the confession of an oldest child who never really grew up. It is the confession of a first-born son, who, for the better part of the 1980s, enjoyed the privilege of bossing around his younger brother and sister, and who loved being the older cousin to another set of brothers who did not question the safety of hanging onto a rusty wagon as it was dragged behind a lawn mower.
You see, back then, I was the Hannibal to my own A-Team; the Captain America of my own Kid Avengers. For years, I decided what it was we would play and how it would be played, whether it was waterguns or superheroes or fake wrestling, which, at the time, did not seem all that fake.
This is the confession of a guy who one day woke up to find his brother and cousins bigger than him and much too cool to play another round of “Jump Out of the Grain Truck like Indiana Jones.” This is the story of an older brother whose sister one day looked in the mirror and asked the question, “Why am I holding a set of nunchucks made out of duct tape?”
Because that is really why I enjoy being a father. It isn’t about the cuteness or the hugs or the genetic perpetuity. It isn’t really even about having free labor to someday mow my lawn. It’s about playing and being a dork. We play games that I get to make up, and my kids play because they don’t know any better. Yet.
My favorite game, because it combines laughter with a healthy dose of utility, is “Fresh Warm Laundry.” To play, one obviously needs a load of freshly dried laundry. The laundry is placed in a basket, the basket is placed on a shoulder, and then I declare throughout the house “Fresh Warm Laundry! Fresh Warm Laundry for sale!” The kids, 5 and 3, will then almost always drop whatever they are doing and squeal “fresh warm laundry!” and sprint to the living room, lie on the floor and smile in apprehension. “Fresh Warm Laundry, in 5-4-3-2-ONE!” Then I get to throw the fresh warm laundry onto my own children, who will, if they’re playing by the rules, giggle and struggle and begin to toss the clothes onto each other. Soft towels work best; try to avoid denim with hot metal buttons.
Another game, a bit less enjoyable but no less important, is “Please, please don’t be milk!” To play this game, you need a sippy cup half full with milk, water, or juice. Give the cup to a child and then instruct them to hide it somewhere in the house. Wait a week, and then find the sippy cup, which is usually hidden beneath furniture or a large toy. When you find the sippy cup, you whisper three times very fast, “Oh please, please don’t be milk!” You take the sippy cup to the sink and open it up. If it’s milk, everyone loses. This game is not my favorite.
The best game we have invented, though, has to be “Pirates and Princesses.” This game begins when we discover the Princess Herald, a Cinderella Play-Doh molder, standing in a conspicuous spot, indicating to us that our services are needed, immediately, in the princess castle downstairs. We sprint downstairs, grab our pirate swords, put our pirate swords down at the door of the castle — as princesses do not allow weapons in their home — and then enter and wait for our quest.
The quests vary but all have consistent attributes. We always use the downstairs trampoline, fueled by their jumping, as our air ship to move around the place. We usually need to sneak into the “Library of Secrets” to borrow the “Map of Legends” out of the “Book of Doom.” After figuring out where it is we need to go, we fight various monsters — dragons, giants, trolls — we ascend Ice Mountain, (the stairs), get some advice from the Elf King, (Grover from Sesame Street) and then snatch the needed item and run back down to the princesses, whom always reward us with copious amounts of pretend food. It is delicious.
As to why Disney princesses feel compelled to hire pirates to retrieve their missing stuff, I don’t know. It just made sense at the time and no one was old enough to ask any questions. When that day comes, when my son is taller than me and my daughter is too cool to play “ninja practice,” I suppose I will have to find another hobby. Perhaps then I will focus on recipes for grilled cholesterol-free steak.