explorations of mindful fatherhood


My Little Trickster

DDDI love it when I my son’s talents are uncovered, especially when he masters a skill that’s far beyond me.  For example, he’s an excellent light saber fighter, a great dancer, and now he’s a skillful trickster.  And I’m so proud.

Here’s the story.  We were out of coffee the other morning.  For some godawful reason, my son was awake at 5:45 am, and when he came downstairs, I asked if he wanted to go to Dunkin’ Donuts with me.  He jumped at the chance and we hopped in the car.  I picked up a bag of coffee beans and asked if he’d like a hot chocolate.  We made our purchases, got home, and popped in Chamber of Secrets for the umpteenth time.  He was in seventh heaven.  I got dressed for work, and just before I was about to leave, I saw him sitting on the sofa sipping from his white DD cup as though it were a piping hot coffee.

“Oh my god,” I said.  “You’ve got to tell mom that I bought you a coffee this morning.  She’ll totally flip out.  It’ll be perfect.”  He got this huge grin on his face and nodded profusely.  I hugged and kissed him goodbye, and crossed my fingers.

On the way to work I was thinking about our joke, knowing that if it were me trying to pull it off, I’d fail miserably.  I simply can’t sustain a lie for the purposes of tricking someone.  I’m not talking about willful deceit or manipulating someone with stories.  That would be terrible.  No, I’m simply talking about one’s ability to pull off a joke successfully.  I can’t do it.  Even if it’s a “there’s something on your shirt” or “your shoes are untied” gag.  I’m just horrid at it.  I strain under the untruth of it all, until my lips crack into a smile or I physically have to turn away from the person.

On the car ride to work, I was thinking about all this, and hoping that my son is as good as my wife at being tricky.  There’s a famous story that my wife fully convinced one of my friends that she and I met at the Mitchell Brothers strip club in San Francisco while she was “working”.  She’d actually convinced the guy of her story to the point that he admitted frequenting the place, and wondered what room she worked in!  She was able to sustain the ruse for a good 15 minutes.  I was around the corner, listening to it all play out, just dying.  But I couldn’t even be in the same room because I would have ruined the joke.  She eventually disabused him of the story (we met in a computer lab), and my intense anxiety fell away.

Anyways, later that morning with the coffee, my wife called me and recounted the whole story about how she’d come down from the bedroom, and my son announced that I’d bought him a coffee.  My wife gasped, and pushed him for the truth.  “Are you serious, because if he did, your dad’s in a lot of trouble.”  And yet, he stuck to the story!  Yes, he replied, it was a coffee.  According to her, she had to press him several times, threatening to call me right then and there, because I’d be in trouble.  (For my Breaking Bad fans, she said she’d actually thought for a second that I was pulling a Walt and this was my version of Walt Jr.’s Mustang.)  He finally broke into a smile and confessed it was hot chocolate.

When she recounted this story I was so proud, actually jumping up and down in my office.  I was beaming.  I couldn’t believe that he kept his composure even under the pressure.

And yet, I was somewhat caught off guard by how elated I felt.  It took a bit of reflection, but here’s what I figured out.  I am a very anxious person, and as I explore my own anxieties, I realize that deep down there’s a fear of “getting in trouble”.  Even though I’m nearing 40, there’s a young child in me afraid of being reprimanded for the littlest things.  This somewhat ridiculous fear makes life hard for me at times.  For instance, it prevents me from confronting authority figures such as my boss.  It also stops me from speaking up against a group of people at times.  It all stems back to this fear: that I’ll say or do something that I’ll be in trouble for.  I’m really struggling with this part of myself, and would like to overcome it.  I believe this is the same fear that prevents me from pulling off the most harmless of pranks.  There’s a piece of me that’s scared of being in trouble.

This is why I’m proud of my son.  There’s nothing wrong with joking around with your mom.  Especially if she’s a prankster herself.  I think it takes a certain confidence, a certain centering in one’s own knowledge of the truth that allows a person to pull off a joke with grace.  This might sound crazy to some people, but I think my son’s ability to pull off a joke like the one about the DD coffee shows me that he’s grounded enough in himself to be able to pull the wool over someone’s eyes. I’m not condoning lying for lying’s sake.  I don’t want my son to become some manipulative, pathological miscreant.  I just want him to know where the truth lies and be rooted in himself, and free of the fear that I sometimes hold.  By virtue of him being able to pull off our gag with a straight face, I know that he doesn’t have this overwhelming anxiety inside.  He can put any nervous feeling away and play a trick, and see it as harmless.  In some odd way, that was what was consoling for me about the whole thing.  My son possesses a confidence in himself and in his own knowledge of the truth, to the point that he can suspend the truth temporarily in order to play a simple joke.  I just love that kid.


Title of Man of the House: Claimed Then Lost

A few weeks ago, I was in our basement when I smelled it.  It was this stinking rotting smell.  At first I imagined that one of the dogs sneaked downstairs to leave us a present.  I checked the floor and my shoes, but found nothing.  With that hypothesis off the table, I knew what it had to be.  Mice.

When the inspector walked through our new house a year ago, mice traps betray the fact that the house had a pre-existing rodent problem.  But we fell in love with the house anyway, in spite of the nagging voice in my head that told me I had a battle on my hands.  Within the first few weeks of moving in, I pulled down the basement’s drop-down ceiling, only to be rained upon by thousands of tiny mice droppings.  Disgusting.  I went out and bought a heavy-duty mask, goggles, and gloves, and started bagging up stained ceiling tiles and nest-laden fiberglass insulation.  The neighbors probably thought a serial killer had moved in, as they watched me in my hazmat gear, hauling black trash bags out of the bulkhead in the middle to the night.

Since then we’ve had exterminators set traps and I’ve plugged up exterior holes, but we still hear scratching in the walls from time to time.  So, when I caught a whiff of that smell in the basement the other week, I shouldn’t have been surprise when I found a tiny decomposing body in one of the former owner’s old snap traps in the rafters under the basement stairs.  Gross.  I went upstairs to let me wife know.

“Time to be the man of the house!” I announced reluctantly, searching for a cardboard box.  I stepped up.  Got the thing into the box and pitched it. Cha-ching: Man of the House.

Frequently I take care of some really gross jobs.  Things that I’m somehow “in charge of” include vomit (cat, dog and child), pests, sewage leaks, and toilet replacement/repair, just to name a few.  At these times, my wife and I will joke about me manning-up to take care of things.  Mind you, however, that I have very flexible gender role identity.   I mean, come on, I studied feminist ethics in grad school and spent a short stint as a cosmetologist in San Diego…I’m not what you call a man’s man.  So the whole “Man of the House” thing is really our family joke on stereotypes.  Regardless, there’s still a joy in claiming it.

Then came the incident last week.

We adopted a new cat from the local SPCA, who’s been acclimating to our home very well.  He’s a beautiful, strong male cat who instantly felt at ease, and will even cozy up around our dogs.  The only issue is that he wakes up at 4am with a wild hair up his ass, running all over the place, pouncing on objects and dashing up and down stairs.

Amid his early morning nonsense the other day, I heard the unmistakable squeak of a mouse.  Damn it.  I shot straight up in bed, and saw the cat on the floor, tracking a darting brown blob on the floor.  I woke my wife up right away.

“He’s got a mouse!” I exclaimed, as she awoke, while I remained pinned on the bed.  There’s something about a scurrying mouse that gives me the creeps.  A dead one?  Okay, I can handle that, but once things start moving and crawling, I get the creeps.  My wife was the first one out of bed, with a cup in hand to catch the thing.  Only after my wife had safely tucked the thing away was I okay to bring it outside and toss it into the woods.  Man of the House title?  Definitely lost.

It was kind of embarrassing.  I like to think of myself as unflappable, especially if there’s a job to be done that affects my family’s safety and security.  A mouse in the house is hardly a threat to our safety, but it’s a sort of an incursion into our home, and so it brings out my need to step up and take care of business.  I was even worse the following day, when that darn cat found another mouse (how infested is our house?) and chased it under the sofa.  Only my son and I were home, so I had to do a lot of internal coaching (“Not a big deal, dude. You’ve got this,”).  It was one thing to show my vulnerability on this issue around my wife, but for some reason, I was just couldn’t let my son see me shy away.

We got down on hands and knees and looked under the couch.  His jacket on the floor obscured our view, so I crept to the other side of the sofa and lifted the jacket.  The mouse raced toward me.  I let out this odd yelp that I caught mid-escape. It started as this high-pitched squeal, but midway through shifted a few octaves lower to a more manly exclamation.  I think I even ended with a, “Damn!” or something equally tough sounding.  I was embarrassed as hell.

I think vulnerability around kids is tricky.  I don’t want my son to think of his father as stoic or unemotional.  So, when it comes to love, affection, and tenderness, I find it easy to express all those feelings.  I tend to hide my anxiety from my son, because I think it’s important that he feels protected and safe.  I tend to be an anxious person.  So, I try to put on a good face when interacting with the world in my son’s presence.  With this mouse thing, it took everything I had in me to keep it together.

I guess it’s okay for him to know that everyone has something that gets under their skin and makes them squirm.  It’s just that when you’re the only one in the house, the role of parent (more so than Man of the House) wins out, and you do what you need to do….even if while doing so you let out a childish squeal.