Whatever holiday you may be celebrating this time of year–or not–I hope that you are able to enjoy some special time with the people you care about. There certainly have been many hardships this past year, but let us try to remember all of the kindness and wonder this world still has to offer. Once again, let children serve as our reminder to embrace the simpler joys in life. For each of us, my wish is the kind of genuine laughter that these two elves–I mean, boys–below seem to bring out in each other. May you continue to cultivate love and joy in your little corner of the world, and I will try to do the same here. Happy Everything! Dadicus
This past week I was cleaning my sons’ rooms and I discovered this in one of their drawers:
As soon as I saw it, I knew it was my Christmas present from the boys. At first I was going to leave it alone, but curiosity got the best of me. I reached in the drawer and peered into the paper envelope. This is what I saw:
I could not believe my eyes. Here was a candy cane and a dollar from their allowance. As I looked at this gift, my heart melted. That dollar may as well have been a thousand. It is honestly the best present I think I’ve ever (almost) received. This gift is such a gesture.
So often, I worry that my two boys are being spoiled by all that our consumer-crazed society throws at them. The daily chorus of “I want…” echoes through our house. And yet, this kindness speaks volumes. I love that my sons gave me (and my wife–her envelopes are under mine) money from their own bank. They quietly went about making these cards, and stuffing them with what they had. Moreover, I love that they think a dollar is a lot. For me, that dollar is priceless.
Now, I have to act surprised when they give me the cards. I thought of different ways I could spend the money so they know how much I appreciate it. I contemplated buying a lottery ticket or two, but then I envisioned my sons at Gambler‘s Anonymous years from now–together– saying they first fell in love with gambling when their dad took them to buy a lottery ticket with their money! I think I will save these bills, put them away in a book or my own drawer, to always remind me of the beauty that can be found in the smallest of gestures. This Christmas, in our house at least, a dollar will certainly go a very long way.
It’s a beautiful Saturday morning in 1975. I have already eaten my Cap’n Crunch (and the roof of my mouth is properly shredded). I have watched my fill of Saturday morning cartoons—The Flintsones, Banana Splits, Shazam and Isis–and I am eagerly awaiting the arrival of the newest addition to the Trainer family. No, not another baby (thank God), but a brand new swing set. Yes, our yard will finally have an attraction that I will be able to use as leverage when I want to swing on Cindy’s tire swing or swim in Mike’s above ground pool.
I can hardly contain my excitement. I am there from the moment my dad, my Uncle Nicky, and a few of the other dads in the neighborhood begin digging holes by the rear fence—four holes for the four steel posts of the swing set. A few of my friends want in on the action, and before long, it seems like the whole neighborhood is in our backyard.
My dad and his cronies (that’s what my mom calls them) are busy fetching tools, swing parts, and beers, so there is a lot of commotion; a lot of people going this way and that. We are told to go play on the front lawn as the backyard is now strewn with important materials. A few of us begin a game of TV tag. Now, I’m not sure if this game ever achieved national fame, but TV tag was one of those consummate ’70s lawn games. Someone would be “IT”, and everyone else would run around. As kids were chased by “IT”, they could kneel on one knee and call out a TV show. If they did this before being tagged, they were safe. How I loved that game. And, how I tried to call out the coolest TV shows before the others. If I could last long enough to shout out Happy Days, Laverne and Shirley, Love Boat, and Fantasy Island, then my mission was complete. No way did I want to be in the game ’til the end, since kids were forced to choose lame shows like Lawrence Welk and Hee Haw. Yeah, TV tag was far out, man. You dig?
As we are engrossed in our fun, my dad comes out to the driveway and walks across the lawn. He needs a tool from our next door neighbor. As he passes by, we stop the game. He says something funny, then tosses the butt of his lit cigarette onto the grass behind us. As he leaves, I have an idea.
I walk over and find the cigarette—still burning. My friends crowd around me in a circle. “Pick it up,” I hear (maybe in my head), and so I do. I hold it in my hand, rolling it between my thumb and forefinger. My friends stare at me wildly. OOOhhhh—that’s bad. But I don’t feel bad. I feel cool. As I raise the butt to my mouth, I see them– my father’s feet entering the circle that has formed around me. From my crouching position, I look up towards him. He towers above me. I pitch the cigarette to the ground as he grabs my arm.
“You should know better!” he yells. “Get up to your room.” “But I…” “Now!” he commands.
I look at my friends’ faces, their expressions all seem to say, “Yeah, we knew this was going to end badly.”
As I walk inside, I am flush with embarrassment, then shame, then anger. I stomp up the stairs. Each foot a THUD—punctuating my frustration. THIS (thud) IS(thud) NOT(thud) FAIR(thud)! I (thud)DIDN’T(thud) MEAN(thud) TO——SLAM! I shut the door hard, fully aware that no one is around to hear it.
For the remainder of the day, I watch all the activity from my bedroom window. My father and his friends work hard to get the swing set in by nightfall. My brothers and sisters play and laugh with their friends. Everyone breaks for a cookout. And I am alone. Alone. I don’t even remember eating that day. I like to think I was not allowed to eat—starved as a part of my punishment.
And as I stare at my dad in the yard, I realize why I am so angry. If I had known the word “hypocrite” as a six year-old, I would have called him one (under my breath of course). Because that’s what he was: a hypocrite. He said I should know better. Well, HE should know better. He shouldn’t smoke. He shouldn’t throw lit cigarettes near kids who are playing on the lawn. He shouldn’t punish me for the whole day. A time out should last ten minutes, not ten hours. Hypocrite!
And therein lies the curse of my father. Even when he was trying to show his devotion towards his kids, his anger and frustration would get the better of him. A gesture of love and kindness, like installing a swing set for your kids, is marred by a man’s inability to see the effects of his actions. A day spent working for the benefit of family is spoiled by too many beers and not enough patience. This curse haunts me as a father, when I overreact about something insignificant, or I blame the kids for something I know was my stupid fault, or when I am impatient because I didn’t allow enough time to get everything done. Being a father certainly allows me to have more empathy for my own dad. But one thing I try to never be is a hypocrite. I am not in favor of the old “do as I say, not as I do” form of parenting.
The next morning, I am eager to make up for lost time. It is very early, and no one in the house is up yet. I sneak into my sister Erin’s room and wake her. We tiptoe down the stairs and out into the yard, our bare feet trekking through the wet, dewy grass. We behold the swing set in all of its lime green and rust orange glory. We are like two warriors coming upon the hidden city. We hop onto the swings and start to glide; our legs travelling back and forth…back and forth… back and forth. The chains squeak with an oily newness. We feel special. The first to ride on our new toy. We smile at each other, laugh, and then BOOOOM! The entire set crashes to the ground. Erin and I fall flat on our faces and look up to see the swing set uprooted from its newly-cemented-as-yet-to-dry holes. Oh my God! What are we going to do?
Had we waited for the okay to ride on the swings, this wouldn’t have happened. We head inside. I am filled with a sense of dread at the thought of another day of being held captive in my room.
I hear them waking. Drowsy footsteps come to the bedroom door. I take a deep breath.
This stupid swing set is nothing but trouble, I think to myself.
This weekend we went to a Christmas Tree Farm for the first time to cut down our tree. We’ve been using a fake one for the past several years (I know, scandalous, right?). But this year we wanted the boys to have a real outdoor adventure. The farm was awesome. We took a horse-drawn cart out to the fields, where we were given saws to cut down the tree of our choice. Even before we stepped foot on the ground, Owen says, “Can we do this again next year?” That’s always a good sign:)
It was a great way to kick off the holiday season. Here’s to starting new Christmas traditions.
My wife, Pam, is away. I’m putting the boys to bed and just get them settled in their rooms. I’m sitting in the hallway with a book by the nightlight while they fall asleep. Hayden (6) says, “What does XOXO mean again?” “Hugs and Kisses” I say. “Which is which?” “X is a hug, O is a kiss”, I say, on no particular authority. A few minutes pass. I think they’re asleep. Owen (8) pipes in, “What’s sex?” My eyes shoot up from my book, panic-stricken. Why is he asking about sex? What the hell have they been watching? What should I do? Pam’s away! Should I be honest about it? I take a breath, about to say, “Sex is something that mommies and daddies do when…” Just then, Hayden yells from his bedroom, “X is a hug, Owen.” “Oh, right,” Owen yells back from his bed. I exhale a sigh of relief. X is a hug. X is a hug. “Goodnight you two!” I say, relieved. “Goodnight!” they reply innocently.
These two goofs are definitely not ready to talk birds and bees.