April 27, 2007

Everybody Loves Brian …

After reading nearly seven books on parenting, two on baby names and a weekly newsletter devoted to everything pregnancy, I can safely say that I have absolutely no idea what I'm doing. Sure, I know better than to name the kid Saddam or let him drink alcohol before he's smart enough to get a fake ID, but I'm not sure I know what to do in the ever-important emergency situation.

And I mean REAL emergency situations.

Any doctor can tell you what to do if you child is running a fever, but he can't save you from leaving the pumpkin seat on top of the car—with the child in it! He can tell you how to properly bandage up a scraped knee, but can't tell you how to cover up the incident (grocery cart race) that caused the scraped knee. And, don't even think about asking him what to do if you leave the kid at the casino.

Seriously, what do we pay doctors for, anyway?

That's why I've decided to turn to the experts in this field: TV Dads. While I know this may sound a bit unorthodox, it's not as absurd as you'd think. "Everybody Loves Raymond," "According to Jim," "Homer"—these guys wrote the book on parenting for the real emergencies that fathers face. So I started studying them all in-depth, learning the ways of the absent-minded father. I took notes. I highlighted those notes. I sniffed the highlighter for several minutes.

Wow, I really am going to make a great dad.

Brittany wasn't nearly as convinced, so she asked if she could put me through a rigorous quiz. I agreed because 1) I like quizzes and 2) I had no idea what "rigorous" meant. We decided that she would present me with three tough scenarios to put my TV Dad skills to the test. How did I fare? I'll let you judge for yourself:

Scenario #1: You're enjoying a pleasant afternoon with your child, lounging around the house, doodling in a Spider-man coloring book. You turn your head for two seconds (OK, more like the entire 5th inning) and, when you look back, your child has conveniently shoved a red crayon up his nose. What do you do?

Answer: This is no time to panic. Take another crayon, say the green one, and stick it up the other nostril. Grab two straws and shove them up your nostrils. When your wife returns, tell her that the two of you were pretending to be walruses. This will not only come off as cute, but also will score you bonus points as it will make for an excellent Christmas card.

Scenario #2: Your buddy Roger buys your little girl a permanent marker as a joke. The joke will obviously wear off when your wife, who is taking a nap, eventually wakes up with a wall full of squiggly lines—and a mustache. What do you do?

Answer: Find every empty beer can in the house and strategically place them all around your sleeping wife. If you have to, chug a few cold ones to make sure you have enough. Draw a mustache on yourself then place the marker in her hand. When all the pieces are in place, fake a police siren to wake her up. When she gets up and asks you what happened, just shake your head in disgust and tell her that you can forgive her for drawing on the walls, but it'll take awhile for you to get over her "Mustache Party." [Also, remember this when Roger becomes a parent: "Hey kids, who wants a bucket of paint?"]

Scenario #3: The baby has dumped a load on the carpet because you (dad) were too busy using his diaper as a beer coozie. What do you do?

Answer: Quickly buy a dog, give it to your wife as a present when she gets home from work, and let her hug and kiss you for the generosity of finally giving her the dog she's been begging you to get for years. Moments later, pretend to notice the mess on the floor, scream at the dog, announce that you will not tolerate such behavior and immediately return it to the pet store.

I must have really aced that quiz, because when we finished Brittany was speechless. In fact, she even put a sticker on my shirt that said "I'm special." It was a really proud moment for me.

In retrospect, I'm not sure if shows like "Everybody Loves Raymond" offer the best parenting advice. The dad is always doing something stupid, and I don't want to be a stupid father. I want to raise the bar for dads everywhere. And I promise that I will.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got more highlighters to sniff.

April 19, 2007

You’re A Father, Charlie Brown …

The word “sacrifice” is defined as “giving up something valued for the sake of something else regarded as more important or worthy.” In biblical times, sacrifice meant giving up your most prized sheep to get in God’s good graces. During the Great Depression, it meant working degrading jobs just to feed your family. And yet neither of those compare to the unthinkable sacrifices you must make as a parent in the 21st century.

Brittany: “Hey hun?”

Me: “Yes my lovely wife?”

Brittany: “When the baby is born, I think you should cut back on your softball playing.”

(Long pause.)

Me: “I’m leaving you.”

This scene took place right after I told Brittany about my plan to play an upcoming softball tournament. I’ve always been willing to give up a lot for the baby—partying, money, my dream of owning a pet elephant—but not softball. Never. It wasn’t until I heard this story that … well, you’ll see.

I’d like to tell you the tale of my friend, Weave, who sacrificed for his pregnant wife. We met on the softball diamonds of Lombard, Ill. back in the spring of 2002 (thanks to our mutual friend and coach, Joe). I was a young softball star in the making (stop laughing), and Weave was a big-hearted, seasoned veteran who brought his ALF bobblehead to the park each night for good luck. When asked to describe himself, he replied, “I’m the living embodiment of Charlie Brown—someone is always pulling the ball out from under me.”

His wife, Julie, also played on the team and spent most of her time scooping bad throws (from yours truly) at first base. Aside from being a gold-glover, she also swung a mighty stick and, as legend has it, once led our team in home runs—though you won’t find a single guy on the team willing to confirm this. More important, Julie is also pregnant with their first child.

Last week, Weave received an instant message from Tom (another friend):

"Want to go boo Sammy Sosa next Wednesday night at the White Sox game?" Weave, whose love of the White Sox rivals my love of the Reds, never passes up the offer to go to a game. He also never passes up the chance to boo Sammy Sosa. But after contemplating the offer for a few days, he turned it down.

“Julie always said I could go to games and such, but I just didn’t want to go,” he said. “I want to stay with her and be around as much as I can for the pregnancy.”

On Wednesday night Weave did what he normally does: ate some dinner, checked his fantasy teams, called friends and family to tell them about a hilarious column he read called The Life Of Dad and, of course, watched the White Sox. The starting pitcher that night was Mark Buehrle, a southpaw who’s so ineffective he’s often confused for a batting tee. Weave decided to channel surf, assuming that the Sox would get thumped. Around the 5th inning he noticed something interesting—Buehrle hadn’t given up a hit.

He stopped surfing.

“I knew right then, I swear,” Weave said. “I passed up the chance to see a no-hitter.”

Now, for you crazy non-baseball types, no-hitters are about as rare a phenomenon as Brittany passing up candy—sure, it happens, but not many have seen it and years can pass before it happens again. In fact, the last time a Red threw a no-hitter Ronald Regan was president, interest rates were 10% and I was in love with Winnie Cooper. I’d have given up anything—including Winnie—to be at that game.

Weave stared at the TV. The sixth, seventh and eighth innings passed and still no hits. He paced all over the living room. Julie, who had been online looking up baby strollers, joined him. She watched with half excitement, pretending to care.

He kept muttering to himself, “I could have been at this game!” But he wasn’t; he was home with his wife. And with that, Buehrle threw his final pitch, inducing a grounder to the third baseman and completing his no-hitter. Weave began clapping and a tear rolled down his cheek. Julie, like any loving wife, smiled, mocked his tear and went back to talking about strollers.

Good Grief.

Sacrifices come in all shapes and forms. Whether it’s missing history to care for your pregnant wife or cutting back the number of nights you play softball, good dads will always give up anything for their children (and even children-to-be). Weave’s story helped give me perspective and taught me a lesson that I’ll never forget:

Kids will always be a pain in the butt.

April 13, 2007

Pulling My Weight …

Pregnant women can be so self-centered sometimes. They’re always thinking of themselves, saying extremely silly things like I’m hungry, feed me or I’m tired, carry me upstairs. They demand these things without taking into consideration that food is expensive and that carrying them up the stairs is a direct violation of section B paragraph 12 of your softball contract:

“No player is allowed to lift or carry any woman he impregnated—not even his wife—up steps, down steps or over big puddles of mud during spring, summer or fall sessions. Any violation of this rule will be met with a demotion, suspension or, worse—taking over coaching responsibilities of the team.”

Recently, I’ve noticed that this self-centeredness has caused Brittany to start skirting her chores. She stopped vacuuming. She stopped washing the dishes. She stopped picking up after me, leaving mounds of my dirty clothes piled up in the living room, exactly where I left them! In fact, one pile had grown so large that we sculpted faces in it and named it Mt. Sockmore.

Disgusting? Sure, but impressive nonetheless.

I decided that this kind of neglect was completely unacceptable. When I confronted her, she made up lame excuses like “I’m tired” or “My back hurts” or “You’re a grown adult and should be able to pick up your own damn clothes and throw them in the hamper.” Obviously the baby is causing her to lose her mind.

With this conversation, I had opened a can of worms. She began acting like I didn’t do enough and demanded that I pick up the slack. Clean the bathtub!, she’d say. So I cleaned the bathtub. Vacuum the rugs! So I vacuumed the rugs. Cook dinner! So I picked up a yummy 30-sack of White Castles. But, in true Brittany fashion, she complained. Since it’s extremely hard to argue with a pregnant woman, I did what any rational man in my position would do: I ignored her. Then I ate my White Castles.

After the food had settled, I gave Brittany’s gripes some thought. Maybe she was right. Maybe I haven’t been the best husband. Maybe I don’t do enough around the house. Maybe “Bacon” isn’t a reasonable name for a child. At that moment, I knew I had to step up to the plate and help out.

So I cleaned the bathroom—sink, tub and toilet. I changed the bedding and fluffed the pillows. I did the laundry (twice, if you count the underwear I accidentally dropped in the toilet and dried with the hair blow dryer). I made trips to the grocery store with lists that included more than just Mt. Dew, Miller Lite and Doritos. I did all these things and more.

I rarely pat myself on the back (hey, stop groaning!), but after examining the past week and all I accomplished, I knew I deserved it. I knew I could safely look in the mirror and say to myself “job well done.” Brittany didn’t say it, but I knew she was proud of me, too. After all, for the first time in my life, she only had to redo half of my cleaning.

*Pat Pat*

I still don’t like doing chores and, if I had my way, I’d hire a housekeeper to take care of everything. Then again, if I had my way the Reds would play year-round, video games would qualify as ‘pets’ and all the thoughts running through my head would be narrated by the soothing voice of James Earl Jones. Unfortunately, I can’t control everything and it’s not unreasonable for me to pull my weight around the house. I vow that until BK3 is born, I will clean more, dust more and shower more—at least once a week—and help out in anyway I can.

Of course, once the baby arrives, my cleaning career is over. Don’t believe me? You should. It’s prohibited in my softball contract.

In Memoriam: While growing up, Kurt Vonnegut was my favorite writer. His books pushed me to think harder, think for myself. I may never be as prolific as he was, but I wouldn’t be the writer I am today without him. I’d like to end with a passage he wrote in Slaughterhouse-Five that’s stuck with me since I was 15:

“Why me? Why you? Why us for that matter? Why anything? Because this moment simply is. Have you ever seen bugs trapped in amber? Well, here we are, trapped in the amber of this moment. There is no why.”

Goodnight Mr. Vonnegut. You'll be missed.

April 6, 2007

My Seven Deadly Fears ...

I once heard that all fathers-to-be develop a heightened sense of fear. They can’t help it; having a baby is a life-altering event. Before you had a pregnant wife, your biggest concern was that your favorite fun-loving coworker Maria—who walks with you to the pop machine when you’re thirsty—will still talk to you after your not-so-inconspicuous booger-flinging incident. But now, months into the pregnancy, boogers are the furthest thing from your mind.
Just a few short months ago, the only two reasons I’d stay up late were for 1) extra innings and 2) sex—both of which irritate my wife. Now, I lie awake all night with my eyes wide open, running scenario after scenario in my head, terrified that something will go horribly wrong. Honestly, I haven’t felt this scared since I was nine years old and noticed the uncanny resemblance between My Buddy, the doll I cuddled at night, and Chucky, the mass-murdering doll from the Child’s Play movies. (Note: That was the night My Buddy got banished to the basement and was replaced by the extremely trustworthy and not-at-all threatening Strawberry Shortcake.)
Back to the point: Earlier this week, BabyCenter.com—the epicenter of everything you need to know about babies, parenting and ovulation calendars—featured an article covering the top seven fears of your average expectant father. It was so nice to know that others were experiencing the same anxiety. So I read the list of fears:
1. Will I be able to protect and provide for my family?
2. Will I be able to perform when my wife is in labor?
3. Am I really the baby's father?
4. Can I handle dealing with my own mortality?
5. Can I handle any health issues my wife or child encounter?
6. Will my wife love the baby more than me and exclude me from that intimate relationship?
7. Will I be able to handle "women's medicine" (the OB/GYN establishment)?

As I read down those fears one thing came to mind: What a load of crap! Those are the top seven? Not in a million years. Number three is the only one that even cracks my top 50, and it’s strictly because I know that if Brittany found a man who could operate a vacuum cleaner, she’d immediately bear his child.
So I got to thinking, What really terrifies us fathers-to-be? For your benefit and the benefit of other future dads, I’ve compiled a list of the seven real fears that I—and other expectant fathers—face. Maybe BabyCenter.com can take some notes.

The Seven Deadly Fears
1. My 50-inch Television, Steven, will feel neglected. Sure, I’ll attempt to express my love by cleaning its remote and occasionally wiggling its antenna. But at the end of the day, when the baby consumes my time, Steven will give me the doe-eyes and take his picture-in-picture somewhere else.
2. Brittany will rip off my arm and use it to beat me senseless over an empty tub of ice cream. Seems silly, but I’ve seen her maim for less.
3. After I’m dead and cremated, my child will snort my ashes. Unthinkable, you say? Reports about Keith Richards beg to differ.
4. My mother-in-law will steal the baby. I have this reoccurring nightmare that, moments after delivery, Mama T swipes BK3 before I get to hold her and races down the hallway yelling, “I’ve got one! I’ve got one!” Keep in mind that if this actually happened, my mom—who’d murder someone before giving up a grandchild—would jump up and immediately chase after her. Of course, it would go down as the slowest, silliest race in the history of mankind. (Where are the dads, you ask? In the cafeteria, sharing a celebratory dinner of liver and onions.)
5. In spite of years of conditioning, the child will hate baseball and the Reds. I could barely type that sentence without getting the shakes. In fact, I’d have an easier time accepting a shotgun blast to the crotch.
6. My Buddy will kill me in my sleep. I know this isn’t baby related, but still, freaks the shit out of me.
And finally:
7. The baby will grow up to look less like me and more like Hervé Villechaize.

There you have it, a complete list of fears that terrify all of us dads-in-waiting. I’d like to think they’ll go away, but somehow I doubt it. In fact, I can only assume they’ll get worse. And, on nights where the anxiety keeps me from getting a good night’s sleep, I’ll just turn to the home remedy that calmed my fears when I was younger: a warm glass of milk, a peanut-butter cookie and a hug from Strawberry Shortcake.