explorations of mindful fatherhood

1 Comment

Television-Induced Narcolepsy (Fatherhood-Onset)

I did it again.

Mellow Tonin'

Mellow Tonin’

A few days back, my son’s grandmother sent him this big pre-holiday package, complete with Christmas stocking, books, and a DVD of the original Merry Christmas Charlie Brown.  The DVD sat on the coffee table for a few days, especially with the busy weekend we just had.  Sunday night rolled around, the sun was down damn early and we ate an early dinner.”Let’s have a movie night!” my wife suggested.

I lit a fire in the fireplace while my son took every ice cream flavor out of the fridge.  Soon, we were all making sundaes in the kitchen and then settling into the living room for some Charlie Brown.

I was lucid for the first 10 minutes, no problem.  Then I felt my body sinking into the cushions and my eye lids getting heavy.

“Keep it together,” I thought to myself.  I shifted in my seat, lifting my head off the cushions.  No use.  Seconds later my eyes were closing.  “I’m still here,” I thought, “I’m still watching.” My wife and son were in front of me on the floor, so maybe they wouldn’t notice if I drifted off a bit.

I opened my eyes to my wife’s disapproving glare.  She shook her head nearly imperceptibly before returning her gaze to Snoopy’s dance.

“Damn it!” I cursed in my head.  Partly at her, but mostly to myself.  How could I let this happen again?  And with a Christmas movie!  Yet in spite of the internal berating, my eyes closed several times again during the 20 minute show.

I don’t know if other fathers experience this sort of hypnotic trance with the TV, but it has only happened to me since becoming a father.  I would never fall asleep in front of the TV, with the exception of some very late night movie marathons.  I grew up with a dad who would lie on the floor to watch a movie with us kids.  He’d be in the same posture every time: legs straight out in front of him crossed at the ankles, head propped up against the foot of the couch with a pillow, and fingers interlaced over his chest.  He looked as though we’d laid him out for a wake.  The kids would be giddy with excitement to watch something.  Part of the excitement, at least for me, was sharing an experience with my dad; him getting to see the cool new show we’d found or the movie we’d been waiting to see on video.  Inevitably, my dad would be asleep a half-hour in.  I hated it.  I couldn’t understand why he’d fall asleep during something I thought was so funny or exciting.  We’d harass the hell out of him, but he’d always stay asleep.

Now I’m that guy.  That undead dad, asleep (or worse…snoring) on the couch while my son and wife are trying to share a nice, mellow night with me.  I waffle between despising this sleeping lump I’ve become and feeling entitled to a bit of slack.  That’s the terrible conflict I feel when my heavy lids lift to reveal my wife’s disapproving face.  Part of me wants to plead, “Sorry, sorry, I know, I’m a bastard!”  The other part wants to say, “Do you know the kind of day I’ve had? Cut me some slack here!”

But ultimately, it’s my fault.  I wake up early to take care of myself: I write, I work out, I meditate.  I do all these things early in the morning before I go to work. Then I have a grueling 10-hour day commuting and working, and come home completely depleted.  And here’s the rub: when my son eventually goes to sleep and my shows pop up on the DVR, I’m usually awake and spry to watch and comment.  I think there’s a part of my brain that sees a kid’s show (especially one right after dinner), and it flips some switch telling me it’s okay to lose it.  It’s okay to let down my guard because this “isn’t really for me.”

The show might be for my son, but the experience is for both of us, for all of us, as a family.  We’re sharing a moment together, and I can’t let my brain lull me into some undead state simply because it’s Charlie Brown’s face up there and not Rick Grimes’.