I’m not much on silly Hallmark contrivances like Father’s Day. I suspect most guys feel that way about most Hallmark holidays, and especially so when the holiday might personally involve them in some way. I figure my son and I have about the same ideas about Father’s Day, which is nice, as we rarely agree on much else. He texted me on the day to say, “Hey, butt-crack face, Happy Father’s Day.” He’s in summer school in college, so wasn’t home, and texting comprises the bulk of our communication these days, so I didn’t mind that it was just a text. And I really appreciated the ‘butt-crack face’ appellation. To think it was just a few years ago (five, to be more precise) that I was helping him to the bathroom and wiping his butt for him—things he couldn’t do by himself in his near-invalid state after his second bone marrow transplant. That little jab felt good. It was evidence of a return to a more normal state of father-son relations, post-transplant. It’s not good for a son to be too sentimental about his dad. We just aren’t built that way. And there was absolutely nothing normal about me being his 24/7 nurse for the couple of years that it took for him to recuperate from the transplant. Dads aren’t meant to spend that much time with teenaged sons, and particularly not for the reason that their butts might need wiping.
But my daughter spent all week telling me of how much I would love my Father’s Day present. I didn’t know quite what to think of that. She’s seventeen, and really blossoming, coming into her own as a young woman—smart and good-looking and funny —the whole package (through no fault of my own—though the apple always fall close to the tree, it sometimes quickly rolls away), who’d been having a great summer after blowing away the college entrance exam (the ACT) with a 34 (36 is all that’s possible). I had told her all I wanted, and only jokingly, was a six pack of beer and a lottery ticket. It was something I’d heard on the Jimmy Kimmel show. Alabama doesn’t have a lottery and she’s not old enough to buy beer and she was watching Kimmel with me when he made the lottery ticket and beer joke, so she had to have known I was kidding. Right?
A few days after the Kimmel show, she had complained that she wasn’t old enough to buy either of the items, and that Alabama didn’t have a lottery. Was she taking this seriously? (I didn’t know lottery ticket sales were age-restricted, but it would seem harmless to let the kids blow their parent’s money on a ticket or two. Maybe the age restriction should cut the other way, and prevent parents from blowing the milk money on what amounts to a tax for people who are no good at math). I (again, jokingly) told her that if she really loved me, she’d find a way to Georgia or Florida, states close by that have a lottery, and get someone of age to buy a ticket for me, but that I didn’t really need the beer. I mean, I almost always have an ample supply stashed in the basement fridge.
Father’s Day came and I got that text from my son, but nothing at all from her. I figured she’d let it go. But I got a great present anyway when the San Antonio Spurs wrapped up their fifth NBA title in fifteen years, annihilating the Heat in Game Five of the NBA finals on Father’s Day night. This San Antonio team will be inolvidable (Spanish for unforgettable) for the way it played team basketball. It was a team of mostly non-Americans (with the notable exception of the Finals MVP, Kawhi Leonard) that cooperated to beat the best the USA had to offer. I really needed that Spurs victory. It restored my faith, not in humanity (who, upon examining humanity, could possibly have any faith in it?), but in my belief that over the long run, desire and effort matter more than innate ability. And that celebrating someone’s innate ability is about as puerile as celebrating their innate eye color. I rather like to think that nature matters, but that nurture always steals the show. The Heat were the most talented team in basketball, mostly because LeBron James is far and away the most talented player in basketball right now. But they weren’t the best. The Spurs, who kept pounding that rock until it cracked, were the best. Bully for them.
Obama better hope that the international community doesn’t take any lessons from these Spurs. If he thinks Iraq and Syria and Afghanistan look like a mess now, just imagine how things would look if France, Germany, Russia and China, et al, decided to cooperate to bring an end to this era of American hegemony. But as I’ve said many times before, sports aren’t a metaphor for anything, except maybe sports. International relations aren’t conducted through a best-of-seven championship format. And even if the Spurs’ victory gave our foreign antagonists some ideas, pulling a disparate group of nations together behind a common goal is much harder than harmonizing a disparate group of athletes chosen as much for their cooperative, yet competitive, demeanor as for their raw basketball skills. Besides, Vladimir Putin is no Gregg Popovich. So the Spurs victory shouldn’t auger ill for Obama’s foreign relation initiatives. Which is good, because Obama has a right proper mess on his hands. And it all started when he said what he didn’t mean, drawing a red line and ignoring subsequent transgressions of it. Alas, a story for another day. The lesson though is one that every successful parent eventually realizes—don’t say it if you don’t mean it. If you say it, you must be willing to back it up with overwhelming, disproportionate force if necessary.
Aside from the world slowly ripping apart at its seams, which is not much more interesting than watching grass grow, it seems there is not much happening about now. FIFA picked a good time to put on a World Cup. And by the looks of the things, if the US wins again (which would comprise two whole victories—enough to get to the round of sixteen), expect the American world to go gaga over soccer. For a brief interlude. Just like it goes gaga over stuff like the butterfly stroke in swimming every four years when the Olympics roll around, and then summarily ignores swimming the rest of the year. If through some miracle of divine intervention, the US wins the World Cup, figure that Obama will lead a parade of politicians to Brazil to bask in the international glory. Not that a win or a loss will have anything to do with him. That’s just what politicians do—figure out which direction the parade is heading and clamor to the front to present the illusion that they are the ones leading it.
I must confess. I was pulling for Ghana to pull a three-peat (unlike the Heat) in their recent match against the US. Not because I hate the US, but because it would have made Ghanaians so happy and proud. For crying out loud, the tiny sub-Saharan land has only about 25 million people, with a per capita income of roughly $1,500. And its soccer team beat the US team in the last two Cups. The US incidentally has a population of well over 300 million and per capita income of roughly $50,000. So it was a really big deal that the US beat Ghana in its first World Cup outing this year. Next up is Portugal. It has only about 11 million people, but is much richer than Ghana, at about $22,000 in per capita income. As the soccer gods (i.e., FIFA, in all its corruptions) have decided that soccer is not interesting without which it is tied to the nationalistic impulse, and as I have foresworn any real nationalistic identity that would yield such an impulse—I consider myself to be a human being on planet earth first, and only secondarily a citizen of a government ruling over a portion of it—I reserve the right to root for any World Cup team I choose. And mine is not the US. I’m hoping the Argentinians beat the Germans in the finals. Considering how many Argentinians have German antecedents, it would be an internecine struggle, something like a family feud, but only if one family spoke a guttural, chopped, consonant-heavy language that does justice to the head but utterly butchers the heart, and the other spoke a lilting, Romantic, vowel-laden language so heavily laden with emotion that its with words go on for sentences.
While I still basked in the glow of the Spurs victory, my daughter left late the next evening after dinner to “get ice cream” with a romantic interest of hers. I was a bit surprised that she’d finally gotten the boy to take her on a date, sort of. She’d had a crush on him for the better part of a year, which finally found a venue for expression this past spring break, when she tried beer and the boy, for the first time each, at the same time. I only know because she told me about the encounter. She said she drank about three and a half beers—enough to get you good and tipsy if it’s your first time. What I don’t know is how much she drank of him. But I told her that they don’t write country lyrics like “tequila makes her clothes fall off” for nothing. Aside from that, I didn’t do much parenting. What’s the point, really, in getting all pompous and pontifical about stuff you’d done many times by the time you were her age, but from a different (i.e., male) perspective that she perhaps didn’t quite understand?
The kid is something of a bad boy. But “He’s so cute!” As my daughter exclaims. He’s a crack baseball player but doesn’t smoke the stuff, preferring instead the ganga weed. As a sophomore starting pitcher on the baseball team the year before (he’s now a rising senior, like my daughter), he was under constant surveillance by the seniors to ensure he showed up to the games sober enough to play. But he’s apparently quite the catch, at least for the crowd my daughter runs in. He has a girlfriend at another school (adding to his mysterious allure, no doubt) but has not let that stop him from chasing after my daughter, who, though she is desperately in crush with him, plays him for all he’s worth. When they finally got together over spring break, she was the “it” girl at school for a couple weeks. Nobody else at the high school had ever kissed the boy. And she did! I sweated it out for a month wondering whether beer was as effective as tequila at making a girl’s clothes fall off. It had been awhile since I’d used either one as an aphrodisiac. There’s no point in wasting good beer or tequila on a fifty year old woman who’d just fall asleep for the trouble. But whatever my daughter and the kid did that night on the beach, it didn’t produce a baby. Whew!
My daughter was back from her ice cream date by the time me and the wife got through with an after-dinner stroll. She was lounging around like teenagers do. The television was on, but only to provide white noise while she tapped at her cell phone like a trapped prisoner tapping out Morse code, apparently trying to glean some important piece of information or make a communicative connection that might change her grim life. She finally looked up to acknowledge our arrival and remarked that it sounded like something was wrong with the refrigerator downstairs. This was odd. Generally speaking, the house could be falling down around her and she’d be the last to notice. She lived at the home we provided her on Roxbury Road, but never was really there. But I’m the maintenance man. Anything that goes wrong is both my fault and my problem with which to deal.
So I asked her what it sounded like. She was vague in her response. I asked if she was sure it was the refrigerator, because the air conditioner fan upon which the family depended for its very survival, given the subtropical climate in which we were embroiled, had been making some strange noises at startup, like it was reluctant to lurch into its decreed purpose of pushing dehumidified and cooled air into the house. I suppose even industrial strength air movement machines can suffer from the ravages of inertia and procrastination. She said no, that it was definitely the refrigerator, but still, she couldn’t describe the noise. I let it rest at that, recovering from the stroll in the stultifying heat and humidity for a bit before going to check on the refrigerator.
When I finally went down to check on things, I found that the refrigerator was humming along just fine, trying to keep cool a new twelve pack of Yuengling (not a Chinese beer, the name not withstanding—it has been brewed by an outfit in Pennsylvania for over a hundred years and is a very good, but inexpensive, American lager) that had a note scribbled on top, “Happy Father’s Day! Sorry it’s a day late.”
So, she had taken my words to heart and bought me some beer—even more than I’d originally requested, I guess to make up for the absence of a lottery ticket. My breast filled with pride. But only for a moment. Then I started thinking, and figured out that her ‘date’ had likely been to go and buy the beer. She had enlisted the aid of baseball boy—who liked beer almost as much as he liked the ganga weed, so knew the places where it could be bought by minors. Am I the worst parent ever, or what?
So I trudged back up the stairs with a bit of trepidation. How do you tell someone how grateful you are for the thought while at the same time berating them for its stupidity? Along the way I recalled how I had been caught buying beer at a quick mart by the County (as we called the deputies who patrolled the unincorporated streets of the little suburb where I grew up) when I was a teenager. Nothing much had come of it. The deputy took my beer (!). Then called my mother to come get me. A few weeks later, we had to go to see a juvenile officer who told me sternly not to do it again or it would go on my permanent record. I had told my daughter about all this. Was she trying to relive my misspent youth? I’ve tried to tell my kids over and over again that my life, which I have always been very open about with them, is no sort of template from which they should model theirs. I mean, I’ve done okay, but mainly in spite of myself. I am honest with my kids about my misspent youth in order to provide them an example of how not to do things, not so that they might emulate my stupidities.
I told the daughter that I had ‘discovered’ the problem with the refrigerator—that it was burdened with trying to cool an unexpected twelve pack. She coyly grinned and asked did I like her Father’s Day present? I replied that I did, but asked how she had acquired it—was that what she and baseball boy had done on their ‘date’? I guessed correctly, because she admitted that they had gone to one of the local quick marts that are notorious among her crowd for being willing to sell beer to underage customers. In fact, baseball boy had been willing to purchase the beer for her, but she had insisted she do it herself. Or, maybe he dared her—I couldn’t quite get the story straight. “Whew” I thought again at this relationship she’s carrying on with this kid. But at least it wasn’t a baby. I didn’t want to go overboard in berating her. She knows my history, and I’d have had a hard time convincing her at how detrimental the affair was to my life. But why bother with risking something like this when it’s just for a stunt? I bought my beer to drink. I don’t think she’s decided beer drinking is anything to do on a regular basis. She could have been arrested. But I wasn’t going to make a mountain out of a mole hill.
No, that job was left to the wife. Who, as soon as the daughter left the room, started in about how I should have done more to discourage her from this sort of thing, blah, blah, blah. The wife has for some reason decided to completely foreswear that she ever had anything like her own misspent youth, including all of her drinking/drug/sexual indiscretions (and I know of many, as I’ve known her since high school) and preach that something along the lines of Puritanism is the only route to success. She doesn’t get that all she’s doing is being selfish. She lived exuberantly and free for many years before settling into her workaday life. Now she doesn’t want her daughter to have the same fun because of how it might make her look, and because of how much of a hassle it might be to deal with. On the railroad of the wife’s life, fun is just a car you occasionally visit as the train clatters along the tracks to an unknown destination that just must be good because it is the one to which the rails are headed. But you can’t get off the train and the train never stops. It just keeps on rolling. I’ve hoped for some time now that the train would, like Jack Johnson’s song, please, please just break down, but it’s not happening. Not even when the son had leukemia did she bother to step down from the train and have a look around.
If you are male, it probably won’t surprise you to find out that both women were mad at me by the time the whole thing was through. The wife is mad for my not having been sterner with my daughter, which is not just a little bit ironic because she knew about the daughter’s plan when it was hatched and said not a word. And my daughter claims that I don’t trust her judgment. Neither of them are talking much to me as I write this, almost a week later. So it’s a win/win.
But in some respects what’s really going on here is ages old female competitiveness rearing its ugly head. And I’m stuck in the middle, which experience has taught me is a very, very bad place to be. It’s almost best to just run as quickly away as possible if you find yourself a pawn between two headstrong women vying for power. Or to get rid of one of the women. I finally dumped my sister for my wife after a few years of a low intensity conflict between them for the primacy of my heart. But that’s sort of hard to do when one antagonist is your wife and one is your daughter. I’ll have to figure something else to do. Or, just ignore the whole thing as much as is possible.
Two women mad at me and not talking to me is plenty enough to say grace over, but the whole affair left another dilemma in its wake. There was now a twelve pack of very good beer in my fridge. But it was the bounty of ill-gotten gains. Should I drink it, or pour it out, like that deputy sheriff did lo those many years ago?
I didn’t know. I considered that the way I gained possession of the beer might be akin to the manner in which the early Christians gained possession of animal meat from pagan sacrifices. Their dilemma was whether to eat the meat though it had been sacrificed to gods they didn’t believe in or, to shun it in order to make a point. In Acts (Chapter 15, verse 29), Luke flat out said no, they shouldn’t eat the meat, but his prohibition was couched between two others, in a paragraph that also prohibited sexual immorality. It seemed something like dicta. Paul was pretty mealy-mouthed about the whole thing, hemming and hawing his way through 1st Corinthians, Chapter 8, without ever really reaching a conclusion, observing that eating meat sacrificed to idols is generally okay because idols are meaningless to Christians, but not if the act of doing has the effect of bringing someone who observes it closer to paganism, thereby losing them to Christ. I guess Paul would be fine with Christians eating the meat of pagan sacrifices so long as they did it alone. As I usually drink at home, what could be the harm?
Then it occurred to me that the Exclusionary Rule in Constitutional jurisprudence might apply. It prohibits the use in court of evidence gained through a search or seizure that violates the 4th Amendment prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures. Should I abstain from drinking the beer because of its character as the fruit of a poisoned vine? But the vine wasn’t poisoned, except, it occurred to me, by me; in so far as I planted the seed with my derelict youth, my daughter reaped the whirlwind (which is mixing biblical metaphors, I know, but I’m having fun—besides, if you know I mixed my biblical metaphors then you know exactly what I meant). It may have been my nefarious deed all those years ago that yielded this twelve pack of beer. Maybe I should just pour it out.
After spending fifteen or so seconds mulling all this over (mostly subconsciously—you’re getting the slow motion description of how the gears were churning), I remembered my other dilemma—I was trapped between two women vying for power. Though it was win/win right now as neither of them were talking to me, I knew there’d be hell to pay once the dam of silence finally broke. I was gonna need lots and lots of beer just to muddle my way through. So I popped a tab and enjoyed again the feeling of fizzy silk sliding down the back of my throat.
The women are both still mad at me. But the beer tasted great, as always.