Father’s Day Tips

In which I ramble a bit.

Father’s Day falls a week earlier in Austria than it does in the United States. (For those of you who just tuned in, I am an American living in Austria.) One consequence of this is that I generally wished my father a happy Father’s Day a week early back when he was alive, and sometimes forgot to call him a week later. At least I called him, I guess.

Another consequence of this is that I can try things out and report the results of my experiments in time for fathers in the United States to benefit from my research.

My experiment this year was going to see a movie with my daughters.

We went to see “The Evil Dead.”

Going to a movie is not a bad Father’s Day activity. You have something to talk about afterwards, if you need anything to talk about. Generally, we have lots to talk about anyway, but it never hurts. It’s also not prohibitively expensive and so on. I will talk more about the pros and cons of movies in general, and especially this movie in particular, in a minute.

I started Father’s Day in a relaxed mood. My wife is away on business and the girls both spent the night in Vienna, leaving me alone with the pets. I fed the pets and ate and did yoga and meditated and did housework and finally called the girls around 11 and one was too busy to come out and the other one was still off the grid. I was incredibly disappointed that they did not instantly show up without prior discussion. I was shocked at the depth of my disappointment.

I finally reached the second kid too and we arranged to go to the movies in the evening. I ate some of the chili I had cooked for a Father’s Day lunch and went for a walk and wondered how, exactly, I was feeling and why. I took a camera with me (the Polaroid) and took a few pictures and Polaroids always look great and that cheered me up. So did walking in the sun.

I decided to stop being upset (hurt, angry, frustrated, insulted, whatever). It wasn’t anyone’s fault, or if it was, it was my fault. Here’s a Father’s Day tip: if you want to spend the day with your kids, tell them in advance. Otherwise they might be busy with other, totally legitimate things.

I was reading a book, which I shall not mention here by name because I don’t like to diss authors. This was sort of self-helpy/philosophical and was based on a great idea (had a great title) about things dying people regret. This is a great idea for a book, and so I bought it, at a bookstore, looking through it only minimally prior to purchase and not checking Goodreads.com reviews first.

Another Father’s Day tip: always check the goodreads reviews!

This book had five brief chapters (practically blog entries, which is what the book started out as I gather) making up about 10% of the book; the rest was memoirs about the author’s (to the average reader) unremarkable life and made her sound (to me) flakey.

But she did mention something about there being two basic motivations, love and fear, and I thought about this out walking by the creek. I don’t know if it is a valid thing to say, but it made sense to me, fear being my main motivation most of the time. Not with my kids – usually love is my motivator there, but I think all my disappointment was more grounded in fear and I decided to reject that and stop being passive-aggressive on Father’s Day and concentrate on love etc etc.

I got home in a good mood, and had three nice polaroids (creek, railroad bridge/creek, tree/sky).

That evening we went to the movies.

Father’s Day tip: movies are okay, but probably not The Evil Dead.

I mean, the movie choice had its pros and cons. Major con: it starts out with a father killing his demon-possessed daughter with a sawed-off shotgun and fire in a shack cellar full of dead cats.

Starts off. And goes downhill from there.

Pros: plenty to talk about afterwards.

Possible discussion topics:

  • Proper choice of Father’s Day films, and who should do the choosing.
  • The creolization of evil (one of my daughters is an anthropologist); in the case of this film, the Evul Book was apparently written in a mixture of runes and Latin, with Celtic-sounding demons
  • The sources of horror (in this movie, sexual horror, xenophobia (see book), family (duh), nature, etc)
  • Chekhov’s pistol (Gamma and I have been talking about this and applying it to whatever we watch – ‘Look! Chekhov’s shovel,’ I said, when we were watching a crime show, and sure enough, the bad guy beaned an investigator with the spade 1 minute later). The Evil Dead had a Chekhov’s nail gun, electric carving knife, shotgun, machete, rotten stairs, etc.
  • Plot holes (nail guns, for example, have safety features – you can’t just shoot them like automatic weapons. Or: who would ever actually stay in a cabin that nasty in woods that creepy? Etc., etc., and etc.)
  • Whether binary systems such as love vs fear as motivators are legitimate or shallow, etc.

Despite these pros, I would choose a different movie if I could do it over, or just go for a walk with them, or out to dinner.

We had a nice time, though, once one subtracts the actual movie from the equation. I am a very fortunate father, to  have kids such as I do. I love them both, equally, and am proud of them both although I generally try not to be proud of anything. I enjoy being around them, they are great arguers, and smart, and funny and entirely different from each other but both awesome.

It being Father’s Day, another thing I thought about on my walk was my fathering strategy and whether that was good, and if I was a good father. That’s really hard to say. My kids are still both in one piece (each) and doing well. Personally, I think I should be more involved with them and their lives, although freedom and space is also a good thing. At any rate, they’re turning out well so far. Hard to say if I can take any credit for that.

Ah, retrospection.

Personal blogging seems to be dying (stick with me, this is still on topic). I used to blame facebook and all the other social media distractions and other options besides blogging, but now I think this is more of an evolution, changing it into something else and not ‘killing’ blogging.

What is going to kill personal blogging is the fact that the cute little kids who did the cute, funny little things we blogged about ten years ago are sixteen now and reading what we wrote back then.

When we got home from the movie, we went for another walk by the creek to sort of get our minds off demonic possession etc. and Gamma said to her sister, “You know what dad wrote about me on his blog?”

It involved ballet class and farting.

Oh, well.

For years now, I have resisted blogging about my family, usually, to respect their privacy.

Usually.

Anyway.

You do what you can, I guess.

In Japan, near Tokyo there is a bay called Tokyo Bay. Land was reclaimed in Tokyo Bay and houses were built on it. At the end of one street is a small playground and in the playground is a blue slide, or was, 23 years ago. As if it were yesterday, I remember standing at the base of the slide’s ladder while Beta, a tiny toddler in Osh Kosh B’Gosh overalls, scaled the ladder, teetered dangerously at the top of the slide for a few seconds, then slid the fuck down.

While she climbed the ladder with total concentration, I stood there ready to catch her. (Maybe I have written about this before, it sounds familiar). Then I remained there while she teetered, and rushed around to the bottom of the slide to catch her before she hit the ground.

She was doing her thing, and I was terrified and trying not to show it. Love and fear again, I guess, as long as you live. Playground slides turn into harp festivals in Edinburgh, foreign exchange programs in France, skydiving in New Zealand, paragliding in Nepal, solo trips through India, study in Norway, and so on.

And look at her now: on Friday, she received her Master’s degree in law, and intends to study further (thank god for affordable European education). I try not to be proud, but I am proud, and I am bragging, and there is nothing more reprehensible than that, but that is what personal blogs are for. I used to think they were for undermining the neoliberal patriarchy, but I guess not.

Main Father’s Day tip: love your kids and do your best to be a good father.

Stasis Man

I miss my kids. I miss the one in Australia most, because she is so far away. I hope she is doing well.

I miss the other one less, because I see her every day, but I still miss her when she’s not around.

I love those guys.

I was at a party. A friend said, hey you got a haircut.

Yeah you like it, I said.

It looks good, she said. Half poet, half Nazi.

Okay, I said.

I love my friends too. Three people sent me links via various media to the badgermin when I asked for theremin design suggestions.

I was going on about a middle rail in the freeway lanes for electric cars to Gamma again today. It would eliminate the need for big batteries, I said, which is the only way electric cars will ever be affordable. She said I should tell someone, so I’m telling you.

I was thinking about Teh BUg. I liked that comic, but I don’t feel buglike anymore.

I dunno.

Maybe I should do a different comic strip. Stasis Man! A superhero who thinks he’s glued to the wall.

My cello teacher sorta scolded me about not knowing the circle of fifths yet, so I’m reading up on that.

Reading up. It’s like, half a page. Depending on the size of the picture of the circle of fifths.

Stasis Man!

Behold the dolphin

The dolphin’s favorite actor is Dolph Lundgren.

But that’s not what we’re here to talk about today.

The dolphin sits there at his desk and listens to the birds tweet outside and thinks about pride and shame.

Pride and shame, pride and shame, pride and shame. If you say anything often enough it loses its meaning and can be used as a political slogan.

Pride and shame.

A high school motto.

Translate it into Latin and put it on your coat of arms.

Pride and shame.

The dolphin used to tell himself, pride goeth before a fall.

Now he tells himself, fuck that.

Honestly.

Fuck that. You only live once, that you know of.

Honestly.

Pride and shame.

Forgive yourself for whatever you’re ashamed of. Just, you know, if it was something bad, don’t do it again.

And usually, when you get right down to it, it wasn’t that bad to begin with. Or not even something you had any power over.

And pride – sometimes it’s a matter of honesty. Sometimes, you should be proud of yourself. Sometimes you do something to be proud of. So be proud. Rarely are we so fantastic that we can afford to be self-deprecating.

It even sounds wrong. Self-deprecation. Self-deprecation. Self-deprecation.

Self-deprecation: a form of self-harm.

Self-deprecation: I’ll only do it until I need glasses.

There is this girl the dolphin knows. He has known her a long time. Since he was 30. Since she weighed 1,272 grams. The dolphin cannot remember his PIN code or someone’s name or numbers with more than four digits, but he remembers that she was born at 11.27 am during a typhoon at Urayasu hospital outside Tokyo.

He can remember how the sky looked as he pedaled his bicycle to the hospital, a clear plastic umbrella in one hand: the clouds were a city in the sky. Black and white in bright sunshine, high winds, pelting rain, bigger than anything he’d ever seen but none of it mattered.

He remembers the first time he saw her, being wheeled out in a pink transport incubator to be moved to another hospital – Matsudo Shiritsu Byoin – because there was no room at the first hospital. She looked like a pastry in a pastry case, small and pink with dark black hair.

And he was afraid his wife would die, she was so blue.

He went to the other hospital. He had to take public transportation so it took hours. He remembers how kind the doctor was as he explained the statistics. Ninety percent chance of no brain damage. He remembers the little girl who wheeled past in a walker as they spoke, she had no fingers or toes.

He never remembers anything, no vacations, little of his wedding. But he remembers disinfecting his hands with blue disinfectant, up to his elbows, and putting on a gown and cap, and going in to look at her up close, now wired to monitors and with a feeding tube down her nose. She had the hiccups and her whole body convulsed there in the incubator, naked but for a diaper.

Her eyes were closed. Her eyelids were purple, as if she were wearing eye shadow.

When can I touch her, he asked the doctor, whose name he remembers.

Did you wash your hands? You can touch her now.

The dolphin held his finger up to her hand. Her translucent little fingers reminded him of a gecko. They fit around the tip of his index finger like an adult palming a basketball, and held on.

This is where he first cried. But fearing that he would trigger a chain reaction, and soon all the babies in all the rows of incubators would all start crying, he held it back.

Then he went back and showed his wife Polaroid photos of a little yellow baby with wires and tubes hooked up and told her the kid was fine and in good hands. He meant to reassure her, but the photo looked so scary his wife – whom the nurses had told nothing, not even if the child was alive or dead – was now even more worried than before.

He had thought the information would be preferable to no information, but not everyone ticks the way the dolphin does.

Then he went home and called his dad and bawled and bawled. He could hear the helplessness in his father’s voice, how he wished he could be there but was instead stuck at the other end of a phone line and, bawling, grasped the fundamental helplessness of fathers.

He visited the girl daily, to bring the child breast milk his wife pumped.

He remembered the sky, the air, the shops he walked past on his way, the noise of the subway.

He bounced the child off the ceiling once or twice, tossing her in the air, which she liked. He and his wife nearly drowned the child giving her her first bath when she came home from the hospital, although when his wife tells the story it’s “he” and not “we”.

He remembers how, when he would walk home from the grocery store with his daughter, she would stop at each cigarette butt in the gutter, and pick it up.

He remembers how fearlessly she climbed to the top of the slide in the playground, in her tiny Osh Kosh B’Gosh overalls, and how he never said, “be careful,” just stood behind her as she climbed, to catch her if she fell (she never did), and then, at the proper moment, ran around to the other end of the slide to catch her when she slid down.

He remembers trying to raise her to be strong and fearless, after starting out so tiny.

He remembers worrying about brain damage and how she turned out not just average, but the best in her class at school.

He remembers worrying about her being sickly, and how she was a provincial rowing champion one year.

Outside the dolpin’s office now, the wind is blowing in the trees. It is a sound he is ambivalent about. Basically, he dislikes wind. But this sound is nice.

The dolphin decides he is proud of  his daughter. He doesn’t know if he has the right to be proud of himself, father-wise. He managed the basics: he, finally, did not drown her while bathing her. He fed her. Whatever mistakes he made, she turned out okay.

But of her he is proud. She has done an incredible amount of things very well. He doesn’t know if she is aware of all the support she has received, from her mother, her teachers, other people (him?). Probably she is aware, she is a smart person. But even if she isn’t, she has to be proud of herself. Not only was she not brain-damaged, she went to a school for highly-gifted students. Not only did she learn to play a musical instrument, she played harp in an orchestra and in an Irish band.

Not only did she learn to drive, she crashed her car on a snowy road, emerged largely unscathed, and then broke her own nose by punching herself in the face when she slipped on the ice outside the hospital, where she was going to be checked for a concussion. (In other words, she is not immune from slapstick.)

She went to a harp festival in Edinburgh when she was 13, by herself. She lived in France for a semester when she was, what, 15? And he had to bring her her harp so she could play a concert. She studied international law in Oslo for a semester. Now she might be going to Canberra next.

Last week she got her first university degree, in Anthropology. But, being her, not only did she do that, she’s getting an article published.

The dolphin decides it’s appropriate to be proud of her.

But the dolphin also realizes that pride is not an end in itself.

The dolphin hopes she’s happy.

The dolphin, that’s all he wants.

The dolphin would give up all that pride in a second for her to be happy.

He wonders if his own father would have given up all his pride for the dolphin to be happy. He figures he would have, too.

The smallest man in the world and high voltage rock ‘n roll

The Smallest man in the World is down to about eight or nine inches. Sometimes he finds himself trapped in a bad comedy routine.

Sandy and Mandy, at some dying hotel in the Poconos (?), performing, by popular demand, their This Couple Gets Lost In The Big City On Their Way To Pick Up Their Daughter’s Wrecked Car In The Middle Of Winter And Start Bickering.

I told you to bring the GPS, sez Sandy.

[Laughter]

We’ll be here til Thursday, remember to tip your waiter.

Finally, the Smallest Man In the World is alone in the wrecked car. We all have a place we belong. Maybe you belong at a sidewalk cafe in Paris, or feeding scrofulous pigeons in Venice. The Smallest Man in the World belongs in his daughter’s fogged-up wrecked car.

He’s idling the motor, waiting for the window to clear before he leaves. The radiator seems to be at an angle, so he has opted to take the slow way home and not the freeway, because this is what strikes him as the best idea.

Driving a wrecked car at freeway speeds strikes him as somehow unwise, due to things like overheating, and parts falling off, and explosions, and so on.

Two Slavic types in long leather coats ask him if he’s leaving soon, because a guy is coming to give them a jump because their battery’s dead. “As soon as my window clears up,” says the Smallest Man, but then their friend comes and is blocking traffic so he leaves early, with just a tiny patch of clear glass to see out of, being a nice guy.

Also, he’s the Smallest Man, how big a piece of clear glass does he need?

The slow way, he thought, would be fast due to everyone wanting to go the fast way, but it turns out to be slow.

One thing he doesn’t do is listen to high voltage rock and roll. He has the heater on, and the lights, he doesn’t want to run anything else, just in case the alternator is fried. He’s sitting, stuck, at a million lights on the way out of town, but the engine is cold and even covered with ice and snow, so it’s okay until he gets out of the city.

Only then does it start creeping up, the needle.

Otherwise, it’s a sweet little car. Too bad it’s a ’95. With this damage to the hood, radiator, bumper and grill, it’s totaled.

Still, he counts his blessings. Both headlights are busted, but it’s not entirely dark yet. The radiator is smooshed, but it’s a cold day.

And moreover, his kid is okay. Just a few bruises. She’s okay.

And that needle isn’t in the red zone yet.

Of course, there is this mountain. The needle goes into the red right at the top of the mountain. The Smallest Man puts the car into neutral and coasts down the other side of the mountain, watching the needle go back down.

There is nothing else he’d rather be doing. This is it. Janelle Monáe could be sitting by the side of the road waving a headscratcher and he’d coast right past.

This is it.