I don’t play.
I cook. I sort darks from whites. I wash, dry and fold. I sign class trip forms. I lead the boys to the dental hygienist for bi-annual cleanings with chocolate toothpaste.
But I don’t play.
I don’t sit down for those strategy board games: Risk, Stratego, Axis & Allies, Africa Quest. I don’t build snowmen, play Wii or design treasure maps that lead to chests buried on the beach at dawn.
Daddy does those things.
Oh, maybe I played in the beginning, a little. I hopped gingerbread men over the molasses swamp in Candyland and pushed the pawns of Chutes and Ladders. Maddening Milton Bradley classics, you taste victory, but inevitably lose these games which stretch out 'til dinnertime and end in tears. Mine.
For a while I tried to engage the boys in crafts: shamrock stamps carved from potatoes at St. Patty’s, hand turkeys at Thanksgiving, sugar cookie decorating at Christmas.
The sugar cookies were most popular due to, well, the sugar, but overall, the boys’ lukewarm response to crafting did not embolden me to crack craft books with 3-D diagrams and hard-to-find supplies.
Then it was cooking: dipping slippery chicken breasts in flour, then egg, then bread crumbs. I was inspired. The boys weren’t. Breading cutlets left them cold.
I even pitched chores as play. Today the little one is competent at filling muffin pans with cupcake liners, watering African violets and dusting the piano with “lemonade spray” (Pledge). But he isn’t fooled. These are chores and little man gets paid for his time.
Then I just gave up.
That’s not quite right. It’s not that I went cold turkey on the hand turkeys.
I still sled. And the little one follows along to my old school Tae-Bo tapes, kicking at the TV and punching the air.
I still lead raspberry picking expeditions, but I was plucking black caps and red raspberries long before the kiddos came along. And I’ll carry on without them when they realize they can stay home and just wait for me to return from the thickets, sweaty, scratched up and eaten alive, swinging milk pails brimming with nature’s candy.
Notice a pattern?
Last weekend we were back at Lefrak Lakeside in Prospect Park with friends. The ice was thawed, the Zambonis sent to long-term parking. 50 bucks for a backache, I bent over for an eternity to lace 3 sets of roller skates. Then I failed to fasten wrist and knee pads securely and readjusted these for another eternity. Finally we hit the rink. The boys clung to me like invasive vines.
I felt a resentment coming on.
No one helped me learn to skate. I fell on my arse plenty until I was looping figure eights on the asphalt in front of my house. Learning to skate is just ugly, there’s no way around this. And no one can do it for you. Despite this obvious fact, the mom who got us here in the first place, hosted my parasites. Her trunk became the great oak around which my ten-year-old twined himself until I said ENUF! I wouldn’t let them attach themselves to the rink walls either. By day’s end the brothers had loosened their stranglehold on stable supports. Virginia creepers no more, they’d stepped up to roller derby robots with jerky limbs. Ugly. But they were on their way…
The pattern? The kids follow my lead now. They do what I want to do.
Here’s the question: How guilty do I feel that I don’t do stuff just for my kids anymore?
Here’s my answer: not very.
I must get this from Nana. Nana doesn’t play either. She picks the “family movie.” It’s never animated and never G. It’s usually PG-13, occasionally R. She likes those formulaic sports films. The ones where — against all odds — the crappy team rallies to win the little league pennant (Bad News Bears) or state championship (Hoosiers) or exhibition game (Mighty Ducks) or almost wins an olympic medal (Cool Runnings) or where the hero becomes the first-round pick in the NFL (The Blind Side). Every year, usually around the All-Star Break, we watch the Bad News Bears. I cuddle up with my boys, a bowl of popcorn and (swoon) Walter Matthau. Ah, the foul slurs slipping from the side of his Schlitz-slinging mouth. Obscene, inappropriate and hilarious.
At bedtime, Nana reads to the boys from a unabridged, unillustrated volume of Grimm’s Fairy Tales. She extrapolates the moral and glosses over gruesome scenes of twisted sexuality and mutilated toes. On these nights I sit with the boys, rubbing their feet till they’re unconscious.
Daddy—by contrast— is a player.
Down in the sand
Up in the tree
On the toboggan
On the exercise mat
On the mini-golf course
Standing over board games
Running alongside bicycles
Daddy does like the tedious strategy games that take over the dining room table for weeks. But as for the rest of it, he’s doing it for them, not himself.
He doesn’t get his kicks from running alongside the unstable two-wheeler of a hysterical 6-year-old. He hates being ambushed when he walks in the door. Still, he submits to 10-minute rounds of Attack Daddy by two sons whose combined weight approaches 100 pounds. BRRRRRRING!! When the egg timer goes off he limps upstairs to change out of his work clothes.
The boyz love Daddy.
Daddy also reads to them. Every night. Chapter books that don’t give nightmares. Adventures, histories, mysteries. Where he gets them I’m not sure. Online? Tag sales? Used bookstores? His mother’s attic? No matter. The boys love winding down with Daddy.
A few days ago, after supper and before Daddy got home, my big son asked: “Mom, can you play with me like you used to?”
I was floored. Playing is Daddy’s domain.
My son’s expression was hopeful. I inhaled deeply and stared straight into my son’s soul on the exhale. This was the spring we gave up little league baseball.
“Would you like to go out front and toss the ball around?” His face lit up. I hit a tree, a parked car and lost the ball in the bushes. He found it. I paused to chat up neighbors returning home from work. He didn’t seem to mind any of this.
We’ve been tossing the baseball pretty steadily ever since. The next rainy evening I’ll suggest a 3-minute word game. I can manage that: “qnyone up for a game of Boggle?”
This post is dedicated to all you Devoted Dads...
Who assemble impossible toys...
Who read aloud at bedtime, apply sunscreen, and delouse...
Who bring home the bacon and fry it up on Saturday morning...
Who eat the broken, slightly-burned cookies and
Leave the best ones for your kids!
HAPPY FATHER’S DAY!!