Being A Dad

 
 
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When you're raising boys, there are certain things you know they're going to show interest in eventually - chicks, beer, video games - you just don't know when it'll happen. So far, in my experience, it's always earlier than you anticipated. (Note to self - pick up a six-pack on the way home. We're running low.)

But of all the things I was somewhat prepared for, I have to admit that professional wrestling didn't make the list. And I guess it should have because both Jackson and Griffin are completely obsessed. 

I only had a brief interest in wrestling when I was growing up. Of course then it wasn't the media empire it is today. Back then it was on Saturday afternoons and it was just one match after the other - very little backstory, very little drama. 

Obviously today it's quite the spectacle and most of it (particularly the stuff going on outside of the ring) is wildly inappropriate for young kids (or unappropriate, as my kids sometimes say which I like to think means "super inappropriate".) 

At any rate, I figured we were safe as long as we didn't let them watch it on TV. What I hadn't figured was that Vince McMahon and his cronies were holed up in a lab somewhere in search of ways to entice young fans. And of course the answer was toys. Rumblers, to be precise. If you don't know what they are, spend a few moments at my house and chances are you'll step on one. Or twelve. The toys, of course, are the gateway drug to what lies ahead. So while my kids have seen only a few snippets of actual wrestling, they're still fully versed in the wrestling universe - in other words, they can smell what The Rock is cooking. 

So now we're inundated with facts and figures and endless questions about mysterious figures like The Undertaker, Shamrock, The Miz and most of all, John Cena, who seems to be the Pied Piper for adolescent boys. For the record, John - I can "see" you - I just don't know what the big deal is. 

Of course there's nothing we can do about any of this except to bide our time and wait for whatever the next obsession is and cross our fingers that it doesn't entail a trip to the emergency room. 

 
 
 
 
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And... we're back. Last Father's Day, we established a new tradition. We took the kids to Belmont Park for a day of horse racing. Initially I figured Jackson would be interested and Griffin would probably be bored, but admission is free for kids under 12 so I figured we had nothing to lose. I made a deal with Jackson that he could pick the horses and I'd make a $2 bet for each race. If he won, he got to keep the money. Don't worry, we have Child Services on speed dial. Anyway, when Griffin got a whiff of this arrangement, he wanted in. So they each used whatever method they chose to pick their horses and I placed the bets. Long story short, they picked four out of the ten races correctly, including a photo finish in the last race of the day, and they walked home with $74 (actually we drove home - I might have questionable parenting skills, but I'm not a monster). 

So when Father's Day rolled around this year, the boys asked if we could make a return trip to the track to bet on the ponies once more (they're both smoking cigars now with a rolled up racing form in their back pocket). Before I could warn them that last year was probably a fluke and that chances were pretty good they wouldn't win anything, they proceeded to win 3 of the first 4 races. I should note here that I've been going to Belmont off and on since I was in high school and I think I've picked the winner correctly maybe once. So clearly they're not getting their handicapping abilities from me. The best advice I could give them all day was, "whatever you're doing, keep doing it." I plan on saving that wisdom for driving lessons too. So we have a great day and we're down to the last race when lo and behold - another photo finish. And wouldn't you know it, they picked another winner. And for the record, they once again picked 4 out of the 10 races correctly. 

I'm sure there's a moral to this story and while you're looking for it, the boys and I will be at the OTB. Jackson got a tip on the 7 race at Pimlico and he's feeling lucky. 

 
 
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A while back, while putting off working, I watched some trailers for upcoming movies. Yeah, I'm one of those guys that loves the previews before movies. Can't get enough of them. Anyway, one that caught my eye that day was Real Steel. When I found out it was based on the same short story (by Richard Matheson) as a great episode of The Twilight Zone (with Lee Marvin) my interest was further piqued. 

And then I forgot about it, figuring I'd catch it late one night on of the countless movie channels we get. 

But then, about a month ago, I started to hear whispers that this was actually a family film. The previews would never reveal that because studios are afraid they will scare away the all-important teenage and young adult audience. But I read a few reviews and they did indeed confirm that this was a family friendly flick.

I asked Jackson if he wanted to go and he enthusiastically said yes. Technically that's not true. Very few kids use the word yes. It could have been a yeah, but just as likely it was a head nod or perhaps a grunt. Regardless, we made a plan and went. 

And I have to say, it was awesome. Sure it's cliche-ridden and you can see plot points coming a mile away but judging from the amount of cheering Jackson was doing during the movie, I'm guessing he didn't care much about those details. 

In essence, the movie is Rocky meets Rock 'Em, Sock 'Em Robots. Lots of action, lots of loud music, lots of robots smashing robots - perfect for any red-blooded boy (and their immature dads). 

There's some objectionable language but it was nothing Jackson hadn't heard already while we're watching the Jets play. And there's one scene of people on people violence that is a little disturbing but it doesn't last too long. 

Oh, and one other thing. When we were making the plans to see the movie, Jackson suggested we invite my dad, figuring he'd enjoy it too. It was the first time I've gone to the movies with both my son and my dad and it made for a pretty great moment. 
Right up to the point where dad got kicked out for throwing popcorn at a group of kids a few rows in front of us. 

 
 
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And... I'm back.

It's not a stretch to say Eddie Murphy's cinematic output since the days of 48 Hrs., Trading Places and Coming to America has been spotty at best. And even that is being overly complimentary. But I've always liked him. Which is part of the reason, I suppose, why I liked Daddy Day Care.

Now there are two reasons I'm not going to try to convince you this movie is the modern day equivalent of Citizen Kane. 1) it's not. And 2) I never really liked Citizen Kane.

Regardless, this movie has a lot going for it especially the casting of Jeff Garlin and Steve Zahn as Murphy's two main co-horts. Other recognizable faces include Angelica Huston, Regina King and Lisa Edelstein. And there's a performance by Cheap Trick and a kid who spends most of the movie dressed in a Flash costume. So I mean, really, what more could you want?

There's plenty of physical stuff for the kids to enjoy, with a healthy dose of poop jokes thrown in for good measure (my boys never met a poop joke they didn't like). Jackson and Griffin both have their favorite rewind moments and it's safe to say the movie holds up to repeat viewings.

So if you're looking for something to watch with the kids, give this movie a shot. Or maybe take them outside. I hear that whole fresh air thing is pretty good too.


 
 
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Somewhere along the line, in the not too distant past, Jackson and Griffin discovered Regular Show on Cartoon Network.

At first I didn't really notice but I became more aware of it as their obsession grew. When your 3-year old starts quoting lines of dialogue, it might be time to take a closer look at things.

As many of you know, there are many cartoons on Cartoon Network that aren't exactly kid-friendly. And so, it would probably have been a good idea to screen the show first before letting them watch it but I've been so busy with fantasy baseball drafts, Rogaine experiments and what-not that somehow I never got around to it.

Well, I can tell you this - it's pretty freaky. The show stars two slackers, Mordecai and Rigby, who happen to be a blue jay and a squirrel (don't ask me which is which, but feel free to ask my kids). Mordecai and Rigby live with Benson (a walking gumball machine), Pops (a walking lollipop), Skips (a Yeti), and a couple of other guys I can't quite identify. 

Each 15-minute episode deals with storylines like being chased by a ghost car from a scary movie, accidentally seeing an old man naked, the perils of lip synching, etc. 

The show is peppered with words such as "sucks" and "crap", which sucks but my kids were bound to hear that crap eventually anyway. 

Oh, and the show is pretty funny in a kind of Beavis and Butt-head sort of way. 

So, appropriate for young kids? Probably not. But is there any long term damage to be wrought here? Gee, I never considered that, but I guess we'll find out eventually.

 

 
 
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There are things that are good. There are things that are bad. And then there are things that are good for kids but as an adult, you'd rather be hit in the face with a bat (baseball or mammal) than to be in their presence. Hence, the new category.

There were many contenders here but, at the moment, the thing that saps my parenting powers the most has got to be Wonder Pets.

If you've never seen the program (and don't worry, I'm pretty sure it's playing on a continuous loop on Nick Jr.), it's kind of like getting root canal by a drunken dentist while simultaneously being kicked in the groin by an angry mule.

What's the problem, you might ask. Is it the theme song that drills itself into your head and stays there for days? Possibly. Is it the saccharin sweet character names like Linny, Tuck and Ming-Ming? Could be. What about the weally, weally annoying speech patterns? Sure, why not? How about my long standing intolerance of Guinea Pigs? How about all of the above?

Technically, there's nothing wrong with the program. It might even be, I don't know, educational. And what-not. But the next time the phone... the phone is ringing? Head for the hills. Or the liquor cabinet. Whichever is closer.

 
 
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Jackson has been doing a lot of independent reading lately, which is great, but it does limit my exposure to books for kids.

Every once in a while, however, he does prefer that I take the reading reigns and one of our recent selections was Slumpbuster from The Super Sluggers series by Kevin Markey.

I picked this up around the holidays when Jackson started to show an interest in chapter books and since he's a walking encyclopedia of baseball knowledge (the other day he was talking about Juan Uribe's home run totals from last year), I figured the subject matter was a slam dunk (look at me mixing sports metaphors).

The Super Sluggers series follows the exploits of the Rambletown Ramblers, a little league baseball team. The lead character of Slumpbuster is the Ramblers third baseman, Banjo H. Bishbash aka The Walloper. As you might have guessed from the title, the story involves Banjo's first ever batting slump. To make matters worse, the slump is a visible, tangible black cloud that follows him wherever he goes.

The book is set in the modern day but is written in a Runyon-esque style with colorful character names and expressions that sound like they were plucked from the Great Depression. Some might find this is over the top, or even cheesy, but Jackson really appreciated it. 

A nice touch by the author is at the end of the book where he lists the full Rambletown Ramblers roster (say that three times fast) along with their stats for the season. Jackson ate that up with a spoon (and a kid-sized bag of chewing tobacco). 

So far there are two other books in The Super Sluggers series and we'll be picking up the next selection shortly. If I'm lucky, Jackson might even let me read it with him.  

 
 
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This is a tricky one.

On one hand, I really liked it. On the other hand, it's not really for kids.

Let's tackle the second issue first. Rango is certainly being marketed for kids - the trailer appeared in front of every kids movie for the past six months or so and Burger King is even giving away Rango toys (even though this is the least cuddly cast of characters since Deliverence). But unless your kid recognizes and appreciates references to Don Knotts, Lee Van Cleef, John Huston, Clint Eastwood, Hunter S. Thompson, or Apocalypse Now, he or she is probably not the target audience for this movie. And remember how confusing the plot of Chinatown was? Well, Rango is basically using the same premise. Throw in a bunch of killings and a pace that's more Leone than Pixar and you realize this isn't your typical animated fare (as an aside, what do we call these movies? They're not cartoons, they're not live action, they're animated but by computers... any suggestions would be appreciated).

Cautionary tales aside, there's a lot to like here. For starters, it looks amazing (and not a third dimension in sight, bless their hearts) and the soundtrack is really good (featuring one of my personal faves, Los Lobos). And it's kind of refreshing to see a movie like this that makes no attempt to cater to a younger audience (no Bieber references, for example). The cast, led by Johnny Depp, is top notch too.

So leave the little ones at home and take the older kids - just don't be surprised if they start showing an interest in Walter Brennan and rolling their own cigarettes.

 
 
The other night, Jackson cried himself to sleep. Literally. And you know what? Part of me was kind of happy about it.

Now before you accuse me of being a character in a Dickens novel, let me try to explain myself.

The source of Jackson’s anguish was the New York Jets and the fact that they had, just moments before, lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Championship game. He was crushed. Devastated.

At first, the level of his grief caught me by surprise. I’m a die-hard Jets fan and have been for about 35 years. Jackson, on the other hand, has only recently started to show interest in not only the team, but the sport of football itself.  I don’t think he’s ever watched a game in its entirety, but he certainly had been enjoying the team’s playoff run – celebrating their victories and wearing his Jets gear proudly in the aftermath.

I should pause here to point out that, now more than ever, I have a significant amount of influence over what Jackson and Griffin like and don’t like. And I don’t mean that in an “eat your vegetables” kind of way. What I meant was if Jackson, for example, likes a musician, it means more to him if I like him/her too. And vice versa. So frequently, I need to be careful when expressing my opinions about whatever their latest obsession might be. With great power comes great responsibility (which was a cool saying the first 9000 times I heard it, but I digress). All of this was a way of saying; I’m a Jets fan so now Jackson is a Jets fan.

I know that many believe it’s ridiculous to care this much about athletes who are overpaid and who frequently exhibit questionable, if not felonious, behavior. But is it any more ridiculous to get emotional over a wrinkly alien with a glowing finger that wants to go home? No judgment here, folks, I cried at that too.

My point is sports are entertainment. They’re an escape. And one of the best parts of having a favorite team is the euphoria that comes when you see them do well. But if you’re going to have that euphoria, you must also experience the devastation when they fail. You can’t have your cake without crying over it too (those two metaphors never knew what hit them).

Another great thing about fandom is the feeling of community – the idea that you’re not going it alone. I should point out that I was not raised in a football family. Sunday afternoons in my house were no different than any other afternoon. But I was curious so I started to learn about the game on my own. After a while, I was hooked and started making plans around the Jets schedule (much more difficult in those pre-DVR days). Eventually my mom became a fan too, but for the most part I didn’t know anyone else who cared about the Green and White. Years later I did, but many of those friendships have gone into the ether and now I’m back to spending most of my football Sundays by myself.

Which brings me back to my original point (thought I’d never get there, did you?). Jackson and I have a new emotional bond. I won’t go so far as to say he’s hooked, but anyone who saw him Sunday night could never say he didn’t care. And because he’s still young and not bitter and jaded like his old man, he believed the Jets were going to win. There was no doubt in his mind. And when they didn’t, he reacted the way most 7-year olds do – he cried. Of course as he gets older, those tears will be replaced by depression, resentment and massive amounts of alcohol but for now, he had an honest emotional reaction to something he cared about.

And before he finally drifted off to sleep on his tear-stained pillow he looked at me and whispered a simple phrase… “we’ll get ‘em next year.”

You bet we will, buddy.