July 25, 2008

You're On Notice, Mr. Gall Bladder …

There are three extremely important characteristics that all dads must have: strength, health and the ability to slide around a tag at home plate. Without these attributes, you may as well trade in your DadCard (and complementary stained white t-shirt) for a bucket of Jim Belushi DVDs (and yes, I meant Jim). Luckily, I've been fortunate enough to be blessed with all three gifts. But then came Monday.

I hate Mondays.

It was four days prior to Ella's official birthday. My wife and I were planning a big birthday of fun—a trip to the zoo, a trip to the pool, then back home for a candle-lit cupcake celebration and harmonized version of Happy Birthday, which we'd been practicing for weeks. From the minute I set foot into my work cube, it was all I could think about—until Chuck, a coworker, friend and rock star, called about lunch.

"Dude. Mall. Now. I'm starving."

"It's 9:45 a.m."

"You're a buzz kill."

When I hung up the phone, I noticed an unusual pain in my side. I'd felt it twice before but had written it off to cramps, gas or residual effects from Brittany's middle-of-the-night elbow jabs. But this time was different. The pain was constant and more severe. I'd never felt a pain like it before, unless you count listening to this. The mall was out. The hospital was in.

After eight hours of waiting rooms, x-rays, ultrasounds, poking and prodding, morphine and an unusually friendly nurse who told me to take off my clothes but didn't give me a hospital gown, the doctor finally came in.

"Well, we can't find anything conclusive, but we have a strong feeling it's your gall bladder. Nothing really to worry about. We'll run a few more tests in the morning and then probably take it out."

"Take it out? Are you sure? I guess you're the doctor, doctor. That sounds funny. On a side note, that nurse in the hallway forgot to bring me a gown."

"That person doesn't work here."

(Long pause)

"Please up my morphine."

While this was a simple and common procedure, it did worry me some. I'd never had major surgery before. In fact, the closest I'd come was having a cyst removed from my wrist. And trust me, that doesn't impress the ladies nearly as much as you'd think it would. I also worried that I wouldn't be out in time to celebrate Ella's birthday. But the sooner they fixed the problem, the sooner I could go home. After careful consideration, I sent my gall bladder a pink slip. The letter went something like this:
Dear Gall Bladder,

First of all, I'd like to thank you for the 29 years of service you've provided me and the rest of the team. As you are aware, we are all suffering from the current economic downturn and, unfortunately, the hard times have hit KlemsCo. Our resources are limited and budgets are tight. It is with a heavy heart that we have to let you go. I wish I could say it wasn't performance based, but after checking past reviews it's come to my attention that no one in the company knows exactly what you do. In fact, several members of the team thought you'd retired several years ago while others just thought you were lazy. And it wasn't until recently when you began causing a stir that we realized you were still on the payroll.

Anyway, we wish you the best in all future endeavors.

Brian A. Klems
CEO and President, KlemsCo.

The next morning, I rolled in and out of exam rooms. I spoke with physicians. I spoke with surgeons. I watched an episode of "Saved by the Bell" where Zach needed surgery to repair his knee and, like me, he was scared of going under the knife. (Thankfully he got over his fear and survived to go onto "Saved by the Bell: The College Years.") When the final test results came back, my prognosis changed.

"All the tests came back negative so it doesn't look like there's anything wrong with you. We aren't going to take your gall bladder. We'll just monitor you for another night and, if all goes well, send you home in the morning."

I believe that was just a polite way of calling me a faker.

I could have stayed and pushed the issue (after all, I was still in pain), but I was ready to go—not to mention that my gall bladder was threatening a wrongful termination suit. So I left the hospital—body intact—and made it home. My side may still hurt, but it's much less painful than the idea of missing my CinderElla's first birthday.

… but seriously, Brittany, quit elbow-jabbing me in the middle of the night. It hurts.

The Life of Dad is updated every other Friday (barring the call of family duties). Thanks for stopping by and following my attempts to be a good dad, husband and co-ed softball player. I hope you visit again. -- Brian

July 11, 2008

Grading Dad (Has it Been a Year Already?) …

Planning your child's first birthday party is exhausting. So much goes into the big day—invitations, cleaning, food making, present buying, decorating, etc. Then there's the 45 minutes of yelling that your wife aims at you for not helping with the invitations, cleaning, food making, present buying, decorating, etc. In fact, she's peeved because the one job she gave you—cut the grass—is still hanging around on your To-Do list, falling somewhere after "Test freshness of month-old bag of Doritos" and "Blow nose."

Honeydew, honeydon't, honey-sleep-on-couch.

When getting things together for Ella's birthday (July 17), I started to reminisce about my first year as a dad. Life changed pretty dramatically. I no longer snooze until noon. I no longer hang out until 2 a.m. I no longer yell at the TV when the Reds are losing (though I do use some well-targeted hand gestures). And when something stinks in the house, I can no longer assume that it's me.

But this is all small-picture stuff. This is how dadhood affected me, and it's not me I'm worried about. It's the big-picture—the Ella-picture—that concerns me. After all, I've just spent the past year grooming her to be a little Klems. So I began asking myself the age-old question that all dads ask themselves when staring into their daughter's beautiful baby eyes: Do I buy a shotgun now or just lock her in her room until she's 30?

Then I realized that that's a silly question. I'm going to do both.

Moments later, I asked myself a more important question: Am I doing a good job? Yes? No? Maybe so? Catch a tiger by its toe?

"If you asked me to grade you, I'd probably give you a 'B'," says my wife. "Put on some pants and I'll bump you up to a 'B+'."

A "B" doesn't sound so bad. It's a grade that doesn't require too much extra effort but will still get you into a good school, preferably one with a mean-sounding mascot like Bobcats or Bearcats or Banana Slugs (thank you UC Santa Cruz). But it doesn't sound great. And I want greatness for my daughter. I want an "A". I'll do anything to get an "A". What will get me an "A"?

"Cutting the grass."

Well, anything but that.

Of course, it doesn't really matter what my wife thinks because she's biased—plus, she doesn't grade on the curve. What does matter is what Ella thinks, which got my brain a'clickin: If Ella could fill out a report card, how would she grade me?

First, we have to set the subjects. The modern six-key skill-set judged by schools include English, Math, Science, History, Geography and Gym. On the Dad Report, we'll call this category Knowledge. Second, dads always need to be available for their kids, so we'll call this category Accessibility. Dads have to be strong to protect their kids; therefore we add Strength to the mix. The fourth category will be Love, because without it there'd be no point in this exercise. And finally, the last grade will be for Fun.

Without further ado, I will make my case for each before Ella fills out my report card.

Why I Deserve an "A" in Knowledge: (English) I'm an editor. (Math) I can work the calculator in my cell phone. (Science) I used to watch "Mr. Wizard's World" on Nickelodeon. (History) I know the years the Cincinnati Reds have won their 5 World Championships. (Geography) I can name each and every capital for all 47 states. (Gym) One word: Softball.

Why I Deserve an "A" in Accessibility: I was there to drive you home from the hospital.

Why I Deserve an "A" in Strength: I often pick you up and swing you around the room, like an Olympic figure skater twirling in the air. And I've only dropped you twice.

Why I Deserve an "A" in Love: If you took every hug I'd ever dished out in the 28 years before you were born, it'd add up to about one-third of the hugs I've already given you. And this number will likely double by the end of the month.

Why I Deserve an "A" in Fun: I laugh at your farts.

After weighing all the evidence, Ella happily gave me an "A"—or, at least, I assume she did (she hasn't mastered writing, yet). How could she not? Since July 17, 2007, every day has been a new, fun and fascinating adventure, and I've loved being a part of it. So when she blows that first candle out next week, I can celebrate not only her first year of life but also the gratification in knowing that I haven't actually screwed her up (yet). In fact, I get to take a little credit for her being so wonderful—whether I cut the grass or not.

If you'd like to send her birthday wishes, feel free to e-mail her at EllaJaneKlems@gmail.com. She'll respond as soon as she can.


Brittany's Top 10 Ella Moments
From Year One (Letterman-style)

10. Mom & dad collectively getting poo'ed on when we were changing her on the pack & play table. (approx 2mo)

9. Hiccups on the porch swing when it looked like her lil head was going to pop off.

8. The first time she danced while standing at her music table.

7. When Mel put Ella's Christmas dress bottoms on Ella's head & they looked like a beret.

6. The first time tasting green beans when she just opened her mouth and let the ball of food fall on her bib.

5. Kissing herself in the mirror.

4. Her "running" around the house and squealing just like ET.

3. Jumping like a crazy woman in the jumper once she really got into it.

2. Any time we can get her to laugh really hard by just making a silly face.

1. When I let her go fully naked for one minute and she stood at her music table and peed on the floor.

The Life of Dad is updated every other Friday (barring the call of family duties). Thanks for stopping by and following my attempts to be a good dad, husband and co-ed softball player. I hope you visit again. -- Brian