Letter from the Editor

Friday, June 22, 2007

Pondering fatherhood

The truth be told, fathers don't do all that much of the heavy lifting.

We are not required to pass something the size of a NFL-regulation football out of our bodies (if we were, let me just say that there would definately not be any population explosion on earth.)

I do seem to recall experiencing a few contractions for each child born, either it was sympathy pains or something to do with the pineapple pizza I favored at the time.

In a strange way, the muscular contractions that produce a child also give birth to a father. Before that moment, the male of the species is a slightly smelly, somewhat queasy party dude in a rock 'n' roll t-shirt and shaggy hair who is scarcely able to change a roll of toilet paper and dress himself. Instantly, he finds himself what he never envisioned he would be - The Dad.

Responsibility. Socks and everything. And, what do you know, he discovers that he can do it, pretty much, somehow.

There's still not so much heavy lifting. You throw baseballs, snap footballs and bump volleyballs. You sit through 5th grade band concerts that sound like a herd of sheep throwing up, as if they are more riveting than Metallica performing with Mozart. You pay for stuff and deliver speeches about why drugs suck. You threaten to remove the spleen of the boy who does not return your daughter by 10 p.m., gleefully displaying the trusty Husqvarna chainsaw as a visual aid. You open stuck bathroom doors. You remind your son to check out the girl's mother, cause that's what she's gonna end up looking like. That's about it. Oh, and you give driving lessons.

Our family's chosen testing grounds has been the rural cemeteries. No traffic, and let's face it - nobody in there is going to be filing any complaints.

My two offspring are at opposite ends of the automotive spectrum.

The youngest is cautious in the extreme, motoring along at a breakneck 4 miles per hour, so busy peering at every microscopic potential obstacle in the road that he may very well drive right into the ditch. "Oh well, that's why we kept that old truck anyway." A Dad quotable.

The older child is a different story. She makes Dale Earhardt Jr. look like a shrinking violet. There are two states of automotive being for my daughter - screeched to a neck-snapping stop or pedal to the metal throwing gravel like a rabid Persian in the catbox. No in-betweens.

For Father's Day weekend, we did a roadtrip with her at the wheel, and the rest of the family cowering on the floor in the back end clinging to anything they could hold onto for dear life.

"Slow it down to warp-speed, Turbo," Dad said, 186,392 times. I don't think she heard any of them, thanks to the howling alternative rock orangutans she had on the CD player, all of which sound to me like someone with their pierced tongues caught in a Weed-Whacker running on high in a field of cactus.

"Never lend your car to anyone to whom you have given birth,"

said Erma Bombeck, and it's not bad advice. It just isn't possible for a father to take it.

You see, fatherhood is a lot about playing make up. Making up for working yourself unconscious at a job you may never have envisioned, doing it to keep your children comfortable, but only when it is too late, realizing that you missed a lot of their childhood in the process.

One day you are wondering why it is that you can never get these damned diapers to fit the way they are supposed to or the pony tail thingie to stay in right, and the next, you're in the stands at a high school sports event or the passenger seat of the truck wondering where that tall nearly-grown person with your shade of blue eyes came from all of a sudden.

And you realize that time is limited, and it's going away fast.

So for Father's Day, why in the world would you want to go off to play golf with the guys or going out for a beer with the people at work, or whatever it was that your pre-father self used to want to do?

So you take a teenage girl shopping in the Pac Sun store full of skater dude threads in which you feel about as out of place as Paris Hilton in the overalls aisle at the Salvation Army. You take a teenage son to the black light mini golf place so that people can laugh uproariously at your glow-in-the-dark shorts. And you take them to eat at Pizza Pit in your old college town, because they think it's the greatest food on earth, even though you would just as soon eat the cardboard box they deliver the stuff in.

The kids will always be your kids, but they won't be children for long. It's unbelievable how fast it goes. I've missed too much of it, and I hate that. The only hope here is that along the way, you've given them some things to think about when they choose how to live and how to care.

So that's why I don't think Father's Day is about going golfing or whatever a fatherhood holiday is supposed to be. I'd rather be doing the Dad thing, that's what I don't get enough of.

What did I get in return? A card from the kids, chosen by my son, the comedian, addressed to "Dad," that snores at you when you open it up. In my bed. Verrrrrrry funny.

If they can realize that I'm away at work right now because I care for them, I suppose I can realize that a prank card is their way of showing they care, too.

After all, we are father and kids. We don't need a lot of fancy words. We know what each other is saying.

Hey, I hope you called your Dad for Father's Day. God, I wish I could.

* Dana Larsen is the editor of the Pilot-Tribune. Reach him at dlarsen@stormlakepilottribune.com