Category Archives: Parenting

This Is Not My Dad!

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Little Biffy was sitting in the shopping cart one day while I selected groceries from the shelves. He was contentedly playing with his Taser when he looked up at me. I’m not sure if a demon entered him or if his nascent sense of humor was blossoming, but he suddenly screamed out:

“You’re not my Dad!”

I was shocked and dumbfounded. My mouth hung open and my eyes bulged, because I am his Dad.

Biff looked to the right and the left. “He’s not my Dad!” he screamed. “He’s an imposter!”

“What?” I hissed. “Biffy, what are you talking about? This is not a good joke! We’re in a supermarket!” I grabbed his little chin to emphasize his need to hush.

The woman by the breadcrumbs turned. Her brows furrowed and she squinted grimly at me. I looked at her, trying to appear innocent.

“He’s starving me!” Biff continued. “He won’t feed me any nourishment!”

The woman started searching her purse for her cell phone.

“Biff! Just because I told you that you can’t have another chocolate quarter-pounder doesn’t mean I’m starving you! You just ate two bags of caramel corn in the car!”

Biff started pounding his little fists and kicking his feet against the wire cart.

“Don’t crush the egg noodles!” I shouted.

By that time a crowd had gathered. Over the loudspeaker I heard, “Security to fruit juices for an incident…”

Biff had put me in an uncomfortable predicament from which I could not easily extricate myself. Next to Biff’s ear, I whispered through gritted teeth, “Tell these nice people I’m your Dad, or you’ll never get to watch Halloween 5 again!”

Biff laughed. “Just kidding,” he told the crowd. “He really is my dad. I just enjoy seeing him sweat!”

Yes, Biff’s sense of humor began to flourish that day in the supermarket aisle. When he turned thirteen, I made him join the circus.


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Weird Is the New Nice

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My son and I dropped my wife off at the door of the grocery store, and then we parked in the lot to wait for her. Biff was sitting in the back seat.

It was a warm Saturday afternoon and my window was open. The passenger window in the car next to me was open, too, and sitting by himself in that car was a young boy of about 11 or 12. He was probably waiting for his mom.

“How are you doing?” I said unthinkingly through my window to the boy. The boy stiffened and looked straight ahead.

“DAD!” hissed my son. “What the heck are you doing?”

“Why? What’s the matter?” I said, looking at Biff’s reflection in the rearview mirror.

“You don’t DO that!”

“Do what?” I asked.

“Don’t say hi to a strange kid. Don’t you know that’s weird and creepy?”

“He doesn’t look very strange,” I replied.

“No, YOU’RE strange!” Biff whispered to me behind his cupped hand.

I sighed. “Yeah, I guess in these days you’re probably right. I was just trying to be friendly.”

“You’re going to get yourself arrested,” said Biff as he slunk down in his seat and looked away.

I rolled up my window.

After my wife was finished buying her cucumbers, she got back into the car. As we drove off, I told her what happened and asked her opinion. “I side with Biff,” she said. “You’re whacked.”

Okay. I understand. I used to be nice. Now I’m just weird.

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That Bugger Didn’t Even Write a Prayer

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Ah, Christmastime.

Being a righteous person, I decided to lead my family in a religious devotional reading on Christmas Eve in advance of the gift-ripping event the next day.

“Sit down,” I yelled at my adult kids. “We’re having a family homily time before dinner. So if you don’t listen with your mouths shut, you can’t eat.”

“How can we eat with our mouths shut?” asked Biff.

“You can open your mouths to eat, but only after I read this family devotional booklet that I picked up at the Substance Mart checkout line.”

“Are we allowed to breathe?” asked Rhonda.

“Funny,” I growled. “Now pipe down while I read this inspiring biblical story.”

I glanced at the date on the page. December 24. I had previously noted that many of the devotional messages were written about famous holy people, such as Saint Augustine, Papa John, and Louie Louie. “Darn,” I said as I looked at the Christmas Eve page. “The bugger who wrote this one didn’t even include a prayer!”

My daughter Lisa made a suggestion. “Why don’t you say your own prayer?” she asked.

“Okay,” I retorted defiantly. “I just might do that. Just watch me. So now you all have to bow your heads.”

I bowed my head but kept my eyes open to see if the other heads were bowed. “Dear God,” I said. “Thank you for Christmas, and thank you that we can read this devotional booklet from the Substance Mart express lane. And thank you that when we are knocked down by life’s troubles we can pop back up like inflatable, Bozo-the-Clown punching-bag toys. Amen.”

Bart snorted, “What? Bozo? Are you kidding? That’s a prayer?” Lisa, Biff, and Rhonda looked at each other and snickered.

“That’s enough guffawing out of you all! We’re reading this over my dead body! And it’s a serious story! Not funny!”

My wife got up to turn off the beeper on the stove, because the toast casserole was done. Biff, Bart, Rhonda, and Lisa continued chuckling and chatting during the temporary distraction. I realized I had lost control of the family Bible-reading fellowship time, but I plowed ahead anyway.

“Lena Horne had trials in her life,” I read. “But because of her cheekbones, she pressed on.”

My wife brought the toast casserole to the table. Everyone started eating. I gave up and started eating, too.

Maybe next year family devotional time will go better. I can always pray.


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Student Driver Teaches Driving Teacher to Drive

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“Look out!” I screamed. “On the curb! That grey-haired lady with the walker might dart out!”

“Dad,” said my daughter Rhonda. “She’s sitting in a Plexiglas bus shelter. I don’t think she’s going to jump in front of our moving car any time in the predictable future.”

“Maybe you’re right,” I said.

“You’re going to have to learn to stop screaming at me. It doesn’t make my stick-shift driving lessons any easier,” said Rhonda.

It was my second day on the road with Rhonda in our little brown compact. Rhonda wasn’t doing too badly, but I was a nervous wrecking ball.

“Watch this upcoming intersection! This intersection! It’s an intersection! You have to stop and then go again after the intersection!” I yelled.

“Yes, Dad. I know. You’re continuing to provoke anxiety.”

“Okay, okay. Now slow down. You can downshift, but you don’t have to if you don’t feel comfortable, but you must apply your clutch eventually, gradually, slowly, RIGHT NOW, with your left foot. That’s the foot on your left side with the masking tape on your shoe. I put masking tape on your shoe to remind you it’s the left. Push the middle pedal! NO! I’M WRONG!” I cried. “IT’S THE LEFT PEDAL, I THINK! AM I RIGHT? Yes! The middle’s the brake. Right? No, I said LEFT! It’s the LEFT, LEFT, LEFT!”

“Yes, Dad,” said Rhonda. “I know my left.”

I tried to speak a little more softly. “I’m sorry. This is wearing me out. After driving for years, it’s second nature and I can’t even explain it correctly. Left shoe, middle pedal, up, down, back, forth, tube sock, cake mix… Whatever.”

Rhonda suggested gently, “Maybe you should just… How can I say it? …Shut up?” She eased to a stop at the intersection.

Suddenly my adrenaline flow increased again. “Stop! Stay stopped here!” I screamed. “Don’t go! I think you won’t be able to accelerate here at this intersection because we’re going up a hill, and you’ll probably pop the clutch, peel out, and blow a hole in the muffler. Plus there’s gravel on the road here, and I don’t think you’re ready for this!”

Rhonda and I hopped out of the car. I ran sweating to the driver’s seat. She got in the passenger side.

I put the car in gear, popped the clutch, peeled out, and threw gravel all over the car behind me. Minutes later I realized I blew a hole in the muffler.

When we got home, I called Joe’s Stick-Shift Training School. My first class is Tuesday.

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Tumbling Cameraman

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“Hey, Ed,” I said to my friend on the phone. “How was your once-in-a-lifetime family vacation to St. Maarten?”

“It was disgusting,” said Ed. “Once is right. Never again. I’m glad to be back.”

“Oh,” I said. “That’s too bad. What happened?”

“Well, for one thing I broke my arm and my camera. I’ll have the cast removed in 8 weeks.”

“Spill,” I told Ed.

“Well, in St. Maarten there’s an airport that’s adjacent to the beach.”

“Yeah,” I said.

“And I wanted to take a video of the planes taking off and landing. I thought it would be interesting to be so close to the action.”

“Yeah,” I said.

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“So I walked across the beach and crossed the highway near the runway. I stood there by the fence waiting for a plane.”

“Okay,” I said.

“And then a plane landed and the exhaust blew me across the highway and under a parked bus near a taco stand.”

“Did you get any good video footage?” I asked.

“No. Just the sky, the ground, my foot, someone’s elbow, and a taco.”

“Whose elbow?” I asked.

“Maybe mine, I’m not sure. Listen, I really can’t stay on the phone right now. The rental-car company is supposed to call me because my son accidentally dropped the car keys from his kayak into the ocean. The rental place says I have to pay to replace the door lock, the trunk lock, and the entire ignition lock cylinder assembly. It should cost me several thousand dollars.”

“Gee, that’s too bad,” I told Ed.

“Plus my daughter’s cell phone was sucked up in a street-sweeping machine, my wife lost her credit card down an elevator shaft, and the automatic teller machines on the island broke so I had to fly to Barbados to get cash.”


Ed continued. “And on the way home, the lady next to me on the plane tossed her cookies on my magazine, the car battery died in the airport parking lot, and I wet my pants in the Quickie Mart.”

“That sounds memorable,” I said. “Did anything else happen?”

“Yes, but I don’t have time to tell you about it right now.”

“Okay,” I said. “Maybe later. One more question. Did anything good happen?”

“Yeah,” said Ed. “I’m still alive.”

I’m glad Ed thinks that still being alive is good.

My wife asked me yesterday when we were going on our vacation of a lifetime. I told her to talk to Ed first.

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Never Fear, Daddy’s Here!

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I was in a fast-food restaurant the other day. As I walked to my seat with my tray, I saw a young boy in a high chair who happened at that moment to push against the booth table with his feet. His chair began to fall backward toward the floor.

By chance, the toddler’s father was walking around the back of his chair, and Dad grabbed the chair and righted it before the boy’s head hit the floor. This whole event lasted less than a second. Then the dad sat down to finish his meal.

Only a moment, surely forgotten by son, and likely forgotten by Dad. But that moment struck me, and I thought about it later.

So many moments in life when Dad is there. Protecting, defending, fighting for us, and saving the day for us. So many moments, and virtually all of them forgotten in the vast ocean of impressions in our minds. But some events we recall vividly.

When my son was small, I pushed him so fast on the swings that he fell off. And he cried. When my daughter was little, I challenged her to go down the biggest hill on her sled. And she fell off. And she cried.

And I grabbed my kids and hugged them. I comforted them, and I felt terrible that I was responsible for their pain. I’ll remember those moments forever. My kids remember, too. We laugh about these memories now, and we fondly describe them.

And I think my kids still love me. Quirky, eccentric me.

How would life turn out without dads? Dads are marginalized by society, and even as imperfect as dads are, they serve a purpose. A great purpose. They prevent cracked heads. They give wise counsel. They sometimes push kids beyond their limits.

No one comprehends completely the difference a dad can make. That event in the fast-food restaurant could have ended much worse. But Dad was there.

Of course, some kids don’t have dads. For kids whose dad’s not around, there’s a bigger Dad Who Is.

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Eating Plastic Chicken

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Chicken Parmesan for dinner. My wife and kids seemed to enjoy my rendition of this old family recipe, until my son Bart spoke up.

“What’s this?” he said, holding his fork over his plate. I looked across the table. Something odd, dripping with tomato sauce, dangled from his tines.

“I don’t know,” I said. “What does it look like?”

Bart placed it on the side of his plate and prodded. “It looks like a piece of plastic,” he said.

I was silent, concentrating on my chicken.

“It’s a label,” he said, scraping away the cheese. “Net weight 28 ounces. Hormone-enhanced spineless chicken with added water, vitamins, and steroids. $2.89 a pound.”

I quietly prayed that he would shut up. I raised my eyes a bit. He was staring at me.

“Dad, what’s this all about?”

I eased into minimization mode. “Oh that,” I said, leaning back and offhandedly waving my napkin. “That’s the label from the plastic wrapper around the chicken. I always freeze my chicken with the label so I remember what I’m cooking.”

“But do you have to cook the label, too?”

“Not usually,” I said. I glanced at my wife, hoping for some help. “Sometimes.”

My wife was silent.

My daughter pushed her plate away. “I’m not eating this,” she said.

“Neither am I,” said Bart.

“Are you serious?” I asked, looking around the table. “It’s just a little plastic! It’s an oversight!”

“Let’s go out for Chinese,” said my other son Biff.

I became incensed. “What’s wrong with you kids? I slaved for 20 minutes dumping that ready-made sauce on this frozen lump. And now you won’t eat it just because of a plastic cooked sticker?”

“Dad,” said Bart. “Don’t you know that plastic decals, when heated and melted, release all kinds of toxic chemicals and noxious polypropylene gas and slurry? Didn’t you wonder why your chicken smelled like NASCAR?”

“You kids are just wimps. When I was in college my friend used to eat packets of saltine crackers with the cellophane still on them!”

“That’s disgusting,” said my daughter. “What happened to him?”

“He died,” I told them.

“Well, I ain’t eating this,” said Bart.

“Me neither,” said Biff.

“I’m out,” said my daughter.

They pushed back their chairs and filed out of the house. My wife followed, looking back at me apologetically. I was left with the dishes.

“Mollycoddled kids,” I muttered. “They probably have to wear bicycle helmets when they drink from the garden hose.”

I dumped a piece of chicken into Blackie’s dog dish, but he barfed.

I scraped the rest of the chicken into my lunchbox for the next day. For dinner that night, I ate caramel-coated Cajun trail mix and Monster Drizzle in front of the TV. My favorite survivalist cooking show was on.

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