Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Papa's Got A Brand New Bag

Recently my sister-in-law was visiting from England with her new baby. She wanted to introduce him to his great-grandmother out of town. My wife offered to drive her out there and decided to take our kids along with them. As I have yet to succumb to the degeneracy of a minivan, there was no room for me on the ride. Much as I love my grandmother-in-law (and I do, she's a real inspirational firecracker of a lady at 95 (or something - actually after 90 I think we can all stop counting until you reach 100)), I was not sorry to have the house to myself on a sunny summer day.

As they descended from upstairs I presented them with snacks for the drive up (and back). Travelling with boys any distance is like what I imagine travelling with panthers is like - they require constant feeding in order to prevent them from shredding the upholstery and gnawing on each other or on you. It doesn't seem to matter how much or how recently they have eaten - once we hit the highway one is guaranteed to demand food - like that carnivorous plant from Little Shop of Horrors "Feed me, Daddy." And so I toss food over my shoulder into the backseat at regular intervals.

But back at the house, I handed over the tucker bag and my sister-in-law was shocked into immobilty.

"What's this?" she asked. "Snacks for the trip (and back)." I explained the boy/food dynamic.

My wife oh so casually mentioned that I do stuff like this all the time. My sister-in-law got hung up on the facts that: 1) I did it; 2) Without Being Asked; and 3)Without even being part of the trip. It didn't exactly bother her that I did this but it certainly bewildered her. It's like finding out your friend's (or worse apparently, your sister's) coffee maker can actually turn into a motorscooter fueled on coffee grounds like some sort of Batdevice. "You mean men can actually DO this?" Simple bewilderment moves quickly to pleasure ("That's cool") but unfortunately then often moves to and is stuck in anger/resentment ("How come mine doesn't do that? Well, things will soon be changing in my house!") So, sorry guys, the secret is out: Men are competent.

I may be vilified for this, but I'm no Quisling appeaser. There is a method to my madness - they left sooner. Also, my wife and children were pleased with me. And I was left to my own devices. Can this result be improved upon? I think not. While I understand the whole "Creating low expectations so that nothing is expected of you" method adopted by many men this is ultimately self-defeating. You become expendable and thus - many men are expended. Now that work, sports and literature are rightfully worlds when men and women can compete, many men are left wondering who they are. The ultimate worth of a man is that he is useful and can be relied upon to look after himself and those he cares for. No one really expects you to hunt your own food anymore but the least you can do is make some PB&Js for the road without being asked.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Reinvented Dad

Pop Culture is a recurring column providing various takes on being a Modern Dad inspired by pop culture references: movies, books, comics, TV shows etc.

Yet another admirable widowed father is Caractacus Potts, an impoverished inventor, in the film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. We are introduced to him via his semi-wild children after they discover an old car that they want to save from the junk yard. They are spied by a beautiful young confectionery heiress named Truly Scrumptious. (The original book was written by Ian Fleming of James Bond fame.) She brings these truants home where, despite an obvious mutual attraction, the adults have a falling out over her claims that the children should be in school rather than left to run amok.

How can I claim this guy is someone we should look to as a guide to being a good dad?

 After many musical and comical adventures involving the now-flying car Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Truly realizes that Caractacus is doing a good though unconventional job of raising his kids: they are happy and full of curiosity, adventure and imagination. He loves them, feeds them (though through wild devices such as an elaborate bacon and egg machine) and provides them with a fantastic example of someone who follows his own path ultimately to love and fortune. Also, he invents flying cars and takes on tyrants in order to save his kids. All the while performing prat falls and singing nonsense songs. Pretty cool.

And as a result he gets to fly off with a young candy heiress named Truly Scrumptious in the end.

A version of this column appears in this month's Village Living Magazine:

Christopher Sweeney Vilage Living Magazine

Wednesday, 8 August 2012


If you want your kids to fly, you have to show them how.
Most parents are hypocrites - myself included. And I'm OK with that. In fact, I often argue that if I wasn't an insufferable hypocrite what would force my children to quit my home in disgust when they reach their late teens or early twenties?

I want them packing their bags saying to themselves, "Well, at least I won't be like that guy. I'll set up my own house much better." I know I had such thoughts and now I wonder if my parents hadn't a similar plan in mind when I was a kid.

"Failure to launch" was not an option offered me and I don't plan on presenting that to my boys either. I don't buy this argument it's so much harder for kids today. Compared to who? Kids coming of age in the Depression, WWI or WWII? Please. They don't have it as good as the Boomers but no one else did either.

I'm pretty sure NASA doesn't rely on the astronauts to push the launch button - they gotta have an override switch over at Mission Control.

"Space Cadet, could you please initiate launch sequence?"

"Houston. I think we're going to need to abort this launch."

"Come again, Space Cadet. I don't copy."

"Well, I was just thinking, why do I want to go to Mars anyway? I mean some of the other astronauts are taking a year or two off to find themselves before blasting off. Buzz is going to clown school in France. Flash is going to work on her wake boarding - she thinks she has a shot in competition this year."

"Uh huh. And how are they managing all this?"

"They are saving their money, staying at their Mission Controls..."

"I see. Initiating launch in 5.. 4..."

"But... What's going on? You can't make me go to Mars!"

"3... 2... Actually, I can. Contact!"

Maybe this is why NASA has moved to Robot Rovers.

We tell our kids lots of stuff that we don't or would never do ourselves. Share. Apologize. Go into new situation and make new friends. Ignore what their peers are doing and follow their own desires (which often coincidentally just happen to be what we want them to do). Etc. Some of this is just necessary and aspirational - we want them to be better than us, do the things we didn't have the courage or foresight to do, take advantage of opportunities we feel have passed us by.

Every so often, though, you get called on this. I was reminded of this recently when visiting friends in Chicago. We went to a local pool which had a dive tower. My eldest was literally jumping with excitement and was crushed to find out that he had to wait until it opened. I was secretly relieved. Not because I was worried about his jumping off the tower (he'd done it at camp before) but because I would be expected to go off it too.

I'm the father of three boys. When you come down to it it is a very testosterone heavy environment around here. To maintain my alpha dog status I have to be prepared to do what they do or lose any natural authority. So once the tower opened and my son was in line he immediately looked over for me and waved me to join the group. I indicated I would be there soon - just watching the other boys swimming. Right. I looked over occasionally and I saw one girl at the top pacing back and forth like a caged beast, to the edge, looking over and then back to the ladder, waving kid after kid ahead of her. On the pool deck siblings and her father were calling out to her to jump jump jump. She couldn't do it. At one point her father lined up at the ladder, presumably to encourage her (or throw her off the edge) but then all of a sudden he wasn't lined up any more. Had he lost his nerve?

So I lined up behind my son who had already gone numerous times. When I made it to the top she was still there. She waved my son ahead. He disappeared over the edge with a whoop. I tried to get her to go for it. Her siblings and dad were still below yelling at her. She still couldn't do it and waved me on. It was time.

I knew better than to hesitate or look over the edge. A cut short summer job as a house painter convinced me that heights and I weren't simpatico. So I ran and jumped over the edge. My first thought - "My, that's far down." My second? "Whoo hoo!" I swam to the edge and quickly lined up again.

Occasionally following your own hypocritical advice can be a good idea.