Television

Portrait of an Artist as a Weird Man: The Death of Vanity

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For those of you new to my blog (welcome:). This is part of a series that I do, chronicling the doodles that my sons draw of me.

I hate to admit it, but I’m vain. I want to be good looking. Sure, I look like every other white, bald, middle-aged man with glasses, but I do not imagine myself to be as frightening as–well, as my son’s latest rendition of me. Now, you may not believe it, but I do not solicit these drawings–I’m not trying to pile on the pain that has already occurred via my sons’ pencils. Yet, each time the boys draw me, I am hopeful. Not anymore. This picture is ghastly.

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The other day, I asked Owen to take a break from TV. He thought of his options, and then said “Oh, I know. I’ll draw you ‘Owen style.'” I fell for it. I actually thought this meant “cool”. When he ran in to show me the picture, I threw up a little in my mouth. The egg head. The weird tufts of hair. A frigging bow tie–he’s never seen me in a tie, let alone a bow tie. And the mouth. I looked like the saddest, most pathetic person on the planet. (I looked like the person who just found out that they look like this!!)

“Here you go, Dad!”

“Whoa!” Swallow throw up. “This is Owen style, huh? That’s interesting, buddy.” I guess Owen style means draw a caricature of my dad where his inner fears are all manifested on the outside. I have to say, I did like that he gave me some muscles–even if they were bulging out of a green blazer that wouldn’t have fit me when I was his age.

But, this picture served as another reminder–my concern for my looks is futile. My vanity is in vain.

The death knell of vanity rang again a few days after Owen’s latest masterpiece. One of my new freshman classes was starting to feel comfortable with me–maybe too comfortable. During a break in the lesson, one of the girls says, “You look like someone…” Whenever I hear these words, I cringe. It is NEVER good. She continues. “You look like the guy from the movie UP,” she blurts out. “The boy scout?” I ask, willing to take the insult if it makes me appear thirty years younger. “No, the old man–like, a younger version of the old man,” she clarifies, as if it will Pixar-Disney-Company-Up-moviemake a difference to me. Oh, I look like the senior citizen, the grumpy septuagenarian. I just smile, nod, and stagger towards the podium, trying to remain composed and continue with the lesson. “No!” a shout is heard from the other side of the room–this time a boy. “I finally realize who you look like.” He points at me, not in a mean way, but in a way that emphasizes his satisfaction of solving the mystery. “You look like. . .THE GRINCH.” I kid you not readers. The Grinch. “Yeah, I do look like the Grinch,” I say. Dadicus Grinch.

RIP Vanity.

To Owen On His Eighth Birthday

Dear Owen,

Today is your eighth birthday, and I  just wanted to share some observations with you about your life.

It seems like just yesterday I held your little body in my hands—my two hands!  Time DOES fly. It travels by leaps and bounds. You are eight today, and soon enough you will be in high school, med school, law school, then NASA…maybe I’m getting a little ahead of myself. The point is, life is fleeting. That’s why I make every effort to capture as much of this time that you and I have together. I am constantly saying to myself, “Remember this…remember this.” And I try.

I have certainly enjoyed the milestones with you– from teeth, to walking, to monkey bars, to bike riding. But it’s the small things that I love the most. Like the time I was putting you to bed and you discovered your shadow. You ran back and forth from the night light to the closet for a half hour straight. Or how you became our little TV junky from the moment I plopped you in front of Baby Einstein at a few weeks old. Or how you make up all these crazy rap song rhymes and sing them over and over; or how we tease you for staring in the mirror of the hutch in the dining room when we have dinner; or how you still carry a wooby to bed and suck your fingers (I know, we’re working on it); or how,  sometimes, when I’m driving, I’ll reach back to hold your hand (I’ve done this since you were a toddler) and you still let me hold it; or how you create all these amazing abstract drawings out of your imagination. But what I love best about you is your sense of wonder. You have such a cool perspective on the world, and I am humbled and privileged to be able to see this world through your eyes. Through your lens, my world is brighter, more magnified.

Your fresh perspective prompted me to begin a journal a few years ago of quotes you and Hayden say.  Here are some examples to help you appreciate what I mean about your viewpoint:

“Daddy—even when I grow up and I become a daddy, you’ll still take care of me right?” “I sure will, Owen.” It was this question from you that prompted me to keep a quote journal. We were driving in the car. You were five. And out of the blue, you just asked me this. Tears instantly shot into my eyes. Hearing you ask this made me realize the magnitude of bringing another person into this world. And even though you will grow up and find your independence, I will always take care of you, and you of me. Family takes care of each other. Always.

“Daddy, watch this. I’m gonna run faster than the rain drops.” What I love about this quote is that your 6 year old self believed it could really outrun the rain. Nothing is impossible when you are young. It is because of this belief, that I have been able to steal a little magic from you. Nothing is impossible if you believe in yourself. Thank you for reminding me of this.

“You have to eat your breakfast or you won’t be strong and brave.” Owen, you are a true first born—you have such a sense of duty and responsibility. You said this to Hayden, who was refusing to eat his breakfast. And you said it with such conviction. You do try to be so brave. You always have. I remember one of your first haircuts. We went to an unfamiliar barber shop (since bald daddy hadn’t needed a barber in years:) There was one old man and he was kindof scary, and the place reeked of his cigarette smoke. You were the only customer. He was pretty gruff, but was trying to be gentle. You kept looking at me for reassurance, and you held it together until the very end. When he whipped out the clippers and started buzzing your neck, you began to bawl. I was so impressed that you hung in there for as long as you did–don’t worry, we never went back there. My brave boy. Keep eating your breakfast, buddy.

Owen: And when I’m 900, I’ll go up to heaven so I can come back down as a puppy dog.

Mommy: And maybe I’ll come back as a kitty cat so you can chase me.

Owen: No! I don’t want to chase Mommy.

Mommy: Maybe I’ll be a dog, too, so we can snuggle.

Owen: Yeah, you’ll be one, too, and Daddy and Hayden and Rufus (our actual dog). Pause. What do we look like in heaven?

Mommy: Some people think we look like angels, you know, with wings.

Owen: Cool!

What I find so moving about this conversation is that kids are simply matter of fact about death. When you said this, I laughed at the thought that you would live to be 900 years old, and then I was sad that we won’t be together forever. That is a sad reality. But I promise you this. For all the time we have left, I will always love you, and I will always be here for you. Mommy and I are so lucky to have found each
other, and then to have had you and Hayden.

I hope someday you will read this. And you won’t hate me for embarrassing you, or roll your eyes at how corny I am. Remember, life is short. And we only get so much time to say the things we want to say. I am so excited to share this day with you, and the year ahead, and as much time as we will have. You will always be my little Owee. I love you, buddy. I hope you continue to find life to be very captivating, as you have captivated us for these past eight years.

Love always,

Daddy

Morning Glories

My heart and mind have been heavy this past week or so, with all of the horrible atrocities that seem to plague children. The Boy Scouts of America are the latest to join the ranks of those leaders who harbored pedophiles and knowingly covered it up.  A young Palestinian girl named Malala Yousufzai is gunned down on her way home from school by the Taliban. Her crime: wanting an education. And just yesterday, much closer to home, news of a twelve-year-old girl from New Jersey abducted and killed at the hands of two teenage boys—brothers. I am sickened and saddened by these situations.  As I commiserate with the rest of society over these despicable events, I am also reminded how we must cherish each day and embrace those we love. Especially our children.

Anyone who has children is used to hearing others remark “how fast it all goes.” And it does!!  That is why I try to be present–every single day–in their world. I want to remember these moments and recall all of the time we spend together. Then, this morning, it happens—I am greeted with a perfect morning. Each encounter was incredible, reaffirming, lyrical, and sweet. It was as if the universe knew that I needed a pick me up. Don’t get the wrong idea, most mornings are not like this. Usually, someone is annoyed. And those in a good mood can instantly turn ugly. But today, today was perfect! Allow me to explain:

6 a.m.   I slam the snooze button. As I try to fall back asleep, I hear Owen (7 ) humming a song in his room while he builds with his Legos.

6: 15     After feeding the cats and dog, I sit in the dark downstairs enjoying my first cup of coffee. Owen comes down the steps, rushes over to me and gives me a big hug and kiss. Kisses from this guy are getting rarer than Haley’s Comet, so I was pleasantly surprised. “Wow, what a way to start my day!” I tell him. He goes bee-bopping down into the basement to play with more Legos.

6:20    Hayden (6) awakens in what seems to be a relatively good mood–it’s a crap shoot with this one. I direct him downstairs to Owen.

6:21    The boys begin to play nicely, and this lasts, uninterrupted, for a good half-hour.

7:00    While I am upstairs shaving, Owen sneaks in to scare me with his Halloween mask–a freaky silver skeleton mask. I feign fright. He then reveals that he has on ANOTHER scary mask underneath his skeleton mask–so people think he’s really scary.

7:05    I catch a glimpse of my wife, Pam, on the steps with Hayden. She is removing an eye lash from his cheek, after which she tells him to “make a wish”. I see him contemplate this task, mouth the words of his wish to himself, then blow away the eyelash with all his might. He runs downstairs. “I made a wish! I made a wish!”

7:07    Owen comes into my room and asks, “Is this how you whistle?” I attempt to instruct him on this once again. “Pucker your lips…Try to loosen your lips…Relax your mouth…Wait, put your top lip over your bottom lip…You’ll get it, buddy.” He scampers away “whistling”.

7:20    Hayden reads off the names of the boys invited to Owen’s birthday party. Pam remarks, “Boy, you seem more excited than Owen!” Owen looks at me and smiles. “He is,” he agrees.

7: 25    As I pour their cereal, Owen asks if he can go to sleep on his own tonight. We have been trying to wean him of some of the bedtime routine for over a year now. He usually insists we stay until he falls asleep. “Are you sure?” “Yeah, I’m ready.” The heavens open up. I hear angels sing from on high. I think to myself, So maybe I can say goodnight like they do on TV? Just tuck you in and leave? Yahoo!

7:30    While the boys eat their cereal and I pack my lunch, I wish Hayden good luck on his Show-and-Tell. “What if everyone hates it?” he asks. (IT, by the way, is a Halloween mouse decoration I bought two years ago after a mouse chased us around the house). “First of all,” I say, “it’s awesome.” “What’s second of all?” he asks. “Second of all, I love it,” I say. “What’s third of all?” he continues.  “Third of all, it’s a funny story.” “What’s fourth of all?” “Fourth of all, your friends are nice.” “What’s fifth of all?” Enter Mommy. “Ask Mommy.” “Ask Mommy what?” she says. I hightail it out of the kitchen.

7:35    As I leave for work, I give Pam a kiss and enter the TV room where both boys are now dressed and ready for school. They are not into kisses these days, so I usually just tousle their hair and remind them to be good for their teachers. Owen says, “Wait!” then runs over, jumps in my arms and plants another kiss on me. “Wow, two kisses today. I am one lucky guy. How about you, Hayd? Can I get a kiss from you?” He just looks at me and shakes his head no. Owen comes running back to me. “I’ll give you one from him, Dad.” And he does. That makes more kisses from Owen this morning than the last 3 weeks combined!

7:40    I drive to work on this autumn morning in a lighter mood. I can’t help but smile as I reflect on all of the small joys that made up this mundane Wednesday morning.

There is a great quote by Robert Brault. It reads: “Enjoy the little things, for one day you will look back and they will be the big things.” I try to remember this often. Today, it was easier to do than other days. And for that I a most grateful.