Sunday, June 17, 2007

Rules of Fatherhood

As I pondered what to write about Father's Day, I realized there are several unspoken rules dads follow, no matter their age, location or background. They are handed down by example and perpetuated by each new generation. They are universal and part of what makes fathers so unique and special. That's because most of these rules require sacrifice (Except the one about pulling his finger. That requires sacrifice on everyone else's part). Here are a few of the more important ones.

1. Dad eats all the scraps. In homage to the starving children of the world Dad finishes what's left on everybody's plate because food just shouldn't be wasted. His dessert consists of two bites of pork chop, a tablespoon of potatos and a half eaten ear of corn. He will usually remind his kids that starving children in China would be glad to have what they failed to eat, although I never believed that some six year old in Peking wanted my fried liver. I also never understood why he thought all Chinese children were hungry. They looked well fed to me in the encyclopedia and National Geographic. We have a friend who never orders a meal in a restaurant. He simply waits to see what his three children don't eat off their plates and makes a meal out of that. He hasn't ordered a meal in a restaurant in fifteen years. I am not making that up.

2. Dad drives the old car. Mom gets the good car to shuttle kids and groceries around town. Dad gets the '78 Pontiac with an AM radio, a rip in the driver's seat and a radiator leak. He carries a jug of water, spare hoses and a set up jumper cables at all times in the trunk. We put a positive spin on it by calling it his "work car", but we all know it's the junker. It's the one you hope doesn't show up at the school house doors to pick you up after basketball practice. Someone might see the tailpipe dragging the ground.

3. Gifts to Dad are often duds. Kids are all pumped about Mother's Day, so they go all out with flowery homemade cards and crafts. But by Father's Day summer vacation is underway, his kids' creativity has lost its steam, and dad's gift turns up a little short. Sadly, a man can use only so many socks, flashlights and key chains. This trend lasts through Christmas resulting in gifts such as car wax and popcorn tins. Funny though, Dad always smiles and acts like it's the best gift he's ever gotten and something he'll definitely use. Somewhere at my dad's house is a stockpile of houseshoes that started in 1969 when I was six years old.

4. Dad metes out the big punishment. He carries the big stick. He's the ulitimate threat. The Top Gun. The Big Kahuna. The Don of Discipline. "Wait 'til your father gets home" is the cry uttered 'round the world by worn out moms who have tried everything they know and need to call in the big guy. The threat of a spanking from dad at the end of his work day was enough to stop me in my tracks on even my worst day. When I was sixteen years old and had broken curfew for the 20th time, it wasn't mom who nabbed me slipping through a dark house with my shoes in my hand. She had handed the gavel over to dad, and it wasn't pretty. I almost peed my pants. In fact, I may have, a little bit.

5. Dad knows how to fix everything. Even if he doesn't, he has to be a good faker. He needs to be able to bluff his way through a running toilet, drywall patches and small engine repairs. It's also important to know how to fix bicycle chains, flat basketballs and hurt feelings when you're always the last one at bat or always stuck in left field. It helps if he can make you a better batter. When that's not possible, his skills at finding the best ice cream stand in town come in handy.

As I said, all of these require sacrifice, but there are a few rules with perks. Like..Dad gets his own chair. Nobody else sits in that chair, even when he's not home. It's reserved for the King of the Castle. After my grandpa died, it was two years before anyone sat in his recliner. I tried it once, and it just felt wrong. I never did it again. Dad holds the tv remote and has final say in the choice of programs. Complaining about Nascar is not allowed. He's allowed to wear tacky shirts, worn out caps and socks with sandals. He gets to swear, scratch and burp in his own home, and if he wants, he can ask you to pull his finger.

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