Is it bad that I wanted my now ex-wife to have an abortion before she had my first kid? I don’t know what it was, other than stark fear. I was the worst husband. I would go out all night and play poker during the nine months she was pregnant. I couldn’t handle the fact I was about to be a father. When she had the baby and after everyone (mother and baby) was given drugs to make them sleep I went out to play poker again. Ingrid, at the Mayfair Club on 25th street, refused to let me in. “Go to your wife,” she said, “she just had a baby.” But I talked my way in and even got a free meal out of it (the Mayfair had a great kitchen until the whole operation was shut down by the police).
I used to pretend to run errands (“Whoops, we need more milk”) and then sit in the café across the street and just read books until my ex would call an hour or so later and say, “Where are you?” All I wanted to do was read books and play games. But suddenly there was this tiny US citizen lying in bed. A new US citizen who looked like an ugly midget, who didn’t speak English, would cry all the time, and would occasionally shit on the floor. Would you ever invite a stranger to come into your house who had those qualities? Of course not.
Today I spoke to her, my oldest daughter. I told her I loved her and I held her hand when we crossed a parking lot so she wouldn’t get hurt. I helped her buy a gift for a secret Santa thing she was in. She bought the latest “Glee” album. I looked at a comic book she was drawing and told her it seemed to me like she was putting together a very good story and I was proud of her. I told her it sounded like a great profession when she told me what she wanted to be when she grew up (“a clown”). She told me that being a clown was like “free money” you get for making people laugh. Then I made her laugh by telling her stories about when she was a little girl and used to run naked around the house, giggling while I tried to catch her. I sang a song in the car to her, as a joke, because she knows I can’t sing although I like to try.
I don’t know anything about being a good father. So why not be like everyone else and give some advice about it:
First, when they are babies:
A) Eventually they walk. By the time they are 18 years old and you have to kick them out of the house, they will probably be walking. No worries.
B) Eventually they will be potty trained. Don’t rush this! Let them go in their diapers until they are begging to sit on the toilet. Less work for you.
C) Eventually they will read. Every kid I know (except for mine) seems to have read the entire Harry Potter series by the time they were four years old. Eventually kids learn to read. No rush. If anything, get them to read comic books. Quick easy stories that they can absorb in quantity.
And when they are a little older:
D) Take them for walks in the middle of the night outside while you are all in your pajamas. Takes them out of their comfort zone in a relatively harmless fashion. Particularly if you are living in a city.
E) The less they go to school, the better. If they want to stay home from school for a day or two and you can accommodate it, then great. Lets not forget that we all hated school when we were younger. It was boring, the other kids are often evil, and its hard to sit still for 45 minute stretches listening to an adult talk about stuff you’re never going to remember. There is absolutely NOTHING they learn in school before the age of 12 that they can’t learn later.
F) Don’t travel with them. Traveling is boring, difficult, frustrating, tiring for kids. There is nothing good about taking a kid on vacation. All you are doing the entire vacation is preventing them from drowning.
G) Tell them lots of stories about mistakes you made as a kid. Lets them know you aren’t perfect so they don’t have to be either. Tell them about the time you stole money from your parents and that’s why you are now missing a finger (simulate lost finger).
H) Make them laugh as much as possible. The only memories they are going to have of you are either you making them cry or you making them laugh. Prefer the latter. The best way I make my kids laugh is when I threaten to beat the shit out of them. Then they laugh hysterically.
I) I asked my kids what I’ve done that has made me a great father and one of them said, “you aren’t strict” but I’m not sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing. Maybe I should be more strict, like setting a bedtime. But I fall asleep by 8pm every night so its hard to enforce a bedtime.
J) I don’t approve of them playing games of pure chance. Like the card game “War”. I like them to play Connect 4, Monopoly, and a version of chess where you just set the pawns up and whoever gets a pawn to the other side first, wins. Games of pure chance waste great opportunities to activate the neurons in the brain.
K) I don’t approve of homework and don’t push them to do it. If there’s consequences to not doing homework then they need to deal with those consequences. But I’m happy to help them if they ask.
It feels weird writing these notes. Because what do I know? I’ve been absent for huge chunks of time while building different businesses. I also never liked the morning routine with them. I used to wake up at 5am so I could go out for a coffee, newspaper reading, note-taking (and Scrabble playing, with the other neighborhood fathers in similar situations), and I wouldn’t return home until 8am, when I knew they’d already be off to school. I didn’t like the chaos of their morning routine.
L) Tell them you love them a lot. And always tell them they’re beautiful. You’d think that’s obvious but not every kid is told that.
I see my kids every other weekend now. And sometimes during the week. But on a Sunday night, like tonight, after they leave (and the house was a tornado of kid energy since their arrival Friday) I sit on their empty beds (they have to make their beds and clean their room before they leave). I look at the stuffed rhino and stuffed elephant respectively lying quietly on each pillow. I think back to when I was a kid reading my comics late at night, Invasion of the Body Snatchers stickers all over my wall, a globe of the world on my desk. My dad would check in and say, “you ok?” And yeah, I always was.