My Wife Has Lost It

"Hey, we need to talk about this chore list..." I don't even get the rest of the sentence out.  Hossmom is in our bedroom, hair frazzled, static electricity sparks flying from the ends.  On the bed is every single piece of clothing that our toddler owns.   Everything.

"What?" my wife says.  But the way she says it is more like a challenge than a question.  It's the scene in Pulp Fiction where Jules asks the kid to say "What" one more time.  I'm afraid to even think the word. 

The winter clothes are in a pile by the pillows, at the top of the bed.  Shorts that my four-year-old hasn't worn in years are on the floor.  Old baby blankets, jeans, and clothes he doesn't fit into yet are thrown at the bottom of the bed.  And in the middle, enough pajamas to fully cloth an entire maternity ward. 

"Um, you're busy.  I can come back," I say and try to back away without attracting notice.  It doesn't work. 

"No.  Ask whatever you are going to ask.  We have stuff to do," Hossmom says as she struggles with a pair of PJ pants that were inside out.  When I put them away, I just throw them in the drawer.  My hands don't fit in the tiny legs and I stretch them out.  If the boy wants his PJs on the right way, he can do it himself.

"Ok," I say.  "Want to tell me what's going on?"
"I'm organizing Bacon Hoss' pajamas."
"Because it needs to be done."

Everyone gives my children pajamas for presents.  Aunts, Grandmas, occasionally a random old lady at the store.  So after three kids, we have a lot.  There is an entire drawer in his dresser dedicated just to PJ shirts, another one just for pants, and a third for the overflow.  There's a lot of pajamas. 

"So," I start again.  Don't sound threatening, it's important here not to sound threatening.  My wife is losing it.  "My chore list.  Yeah, just had a few questions.  That's all."

"Ok.  What about?" she says.

"Do I really need to organize the silverware drawer.  I mean, it kind of already does that." 
"Yes.  Make sure you don't put the small forks with the bigger ones."
"Right.  Got it.  And where the list says 'dust the tops of doors', I'm not sure I understand that one."
"Why?  Get a rag and dust the tops of the doors.  We never do it and I'm sure it needs it."

I want to argue here but I also want to keep breathing, so I just shut it.  I could point out that the constant friction between the top of a door and the door jamb is pretty much an automatic dusting.  I mean, right?  Is there really dust up there? 

"And clean behind the couch?" I ask, but only because I actually did that one last week.  I found a banana peel.  The kids and I had to have a talk.

"Yup, take another look." 

I know what's going on here but even for my wife, this seems excessive.  We have family coming in for the holidays.  My brother-in-law and his wife are flying up.  My little nephew is going to open some presents and then check door jambs for dust. 

Hossmom has gone goofy. 

"Sure.  I can take another look.  But this last one, I'm not sure I understand it," I say to my wife and hand her the list.  She snatches it from my hand, a pair of pajama pants falls off the bed and I quickly pick it up before she notices anything.

"Display cutting boards," she reads.
"I don't know what that means," I say.
"Exactly what it says.  Put the cutting boards out that they gave us so they can see them."
"But they are cutting boards."
"I know.  Put them out."
"I usually keep them in the cabinet when I'm not, you know, cutting things."
"Put. Them. Out."

There is a finality to her words.  Apparently, this is not open for discussion.  She throws the list back at me and I grab it in mid-air. 

"There, all done," Hossmom says.  On the bed are nicely matched pairs of pajamas.  Every pant has a matching top.  The ones that don't have been thrown in a box.  I don't want to ask what she is going to make me do with the box.

My son is four.  He gets his own pajamas at night.  And as a four-year-old, he has absolutely no fashion sense, none at all.  Bacon Hoss will grab a pair of truck pants, complete the ensemble with a winter jacket, and then we are ready for bed.  Usually, I let him do his thing.  Gotta let the little guy express himself.  I don't think my wife cares for the most part.  Not until family is coming into town.

"Are you afraid that your brother and his wife are going to check to see if our son's PJs match?" I ask.
"Maybe," she says.
"I don't think they are that weird."  Not as weird as my wife.  I don't say that though, if I do she will throw me into the box. 

"Help me put all this away and take the box to the garage," she says, ignoring my quip. 
"Can't.  I've got to go hang cutting boards on our wall somewhere."
"Ok," she says like this is the most normal conversation to have.  She grabs an armful of PJs, making sure that they are neatly organized as she grabs them.

"When you're done," she says, "can you give the cat a bath?"

It is going to be a very long Christmas.

Happy holidays everyone.  That's it for this year and I'll see everyone in 2018.  Assuming, of course, if I survive bathing the cat. 


7 Ways To Avoid Hanging Up Women's Shirts

I put my wife’s shirt on the hanger, say a quick prayer, and then watch it slide off onto the floor.  You would think that after being an at-home-dad the last nine years that I would have figured this out.  I have done enough laundry over that time to fully clean all the sails for an armada of 1642 Spanish galleons.  Nope, women’s shirts still confuse me.  

No shirt made for any woman will ever stay on a hanger unless there is some sort of magic involved.  Apparently, I’m a muggle.  The necks are too large and they are made out of some sort of fabric that doesn’t exist in this realm.  The shirts even give you false hope.  There are these little strappy things hidden in a lot of them so that they can be attached to a hanger.  I refuse to do this because it’s obvious that the hanger industry has conspired with the magical shirt industry.  Just so I’m clear, I have to actually pay attention to the hangers I’m buying?  It’s a hanger.  It hangs.  I think not Mr. Big Hanger Conglomerate.  

Instead of learning to do the impossible, I have spent the last nine years coming up with ways to avoid hanging up any and all women’s shirts.  Oh, and taking care of children.  Mostly, the shirt thing though.

I present to you, all my comrades in laundry (not in the Russian comrade way, go U.S.A.), my tips and tricks for avoiding hanging up women’s shirts.  

1.  Go get your trusty nail gun.  I believe that I can safely assume that we at least have the very basic model?  I should hope so, we are not savages, are we?  Take the nail gun, the shirt, and the hanger to your wife’s closet.  Place the shirt over the hanger and press both against the wall.  Fire your nail gun up, watch your fingers, and pop 25 two penny nails through the shirt and hanger.  Technically, the hanger is now hanging on the shirt.  Close enough.  

2.  Stop doing laundry.  Learn to be Elsa, let it go.  Sing the song if you want to while you cower under the mounds and mounds of dirty women’s shirts.  It’s ok, you will look appropriately crazy singing while you sled down a hill full of silky shirts and their bullshit straps.  

3.  “This shirt will hang up fine,” your wife will say.  It’s a trap!  Don’t buy it.  Take a close look at that shirt she is hanging up.  Why, it’s not a woman’s shirt at all, no sir.  It’s one of your collared shirts that she has appropriated.  She will wear it to make you lose your mind because none of us can resist the look of our wife in one of our button downs, can we?  Don’t fall for it.  That’s a man’s shirt and thus is very easily hung up.  Call out your wife.  Not publicly though, that’s a mistake.  We all want to continue to stay married.  Go back to your bedroom and your landfill of women’s shirts.    

4.  Fire.  Man created fire!  It’s our greatest invention.  Fire has brought us from caves to living in high-rise condos while we sip on tea brewed over a fire.  Well, some people.  I’m assuming that people that can afford high-rise condo’s in any American city can also afford a maid to do their laundry for them.  Screw those people, right?  For us suburban Neanderthals though, we still got to deal with this unholy of holies.  Fire’s original purpose was not to ward off the dangers of the dark.  Hell, no.  It was to burn Mrs. Grog’s stupid sundress fur that she picked up on vacation.  Mr. Grog couldn’t handle it and since nail guns weren’t invented yet, he used fire to sacrifice all women’s shirt to whatever devil invented them.  So let’s all pay attention to Grog, may his memory live on, and just burn the fracking shirts.  

5.  Go find a fitted sheet, preferably one with lots of stains on it.  No reason for the stains, I’m just assuming that all of us could use new sheets.    Now take that sheet to the University of Laundry located somewhere on the East Coast.  Spend 50K and three years learning how to fold the sheet.  Come back to your house and show your wife how easy it is to fold a fitted sheet.  Then try and hang up one of your wife’s shirts.  You still won’t be able to do it, even with all your fancy learning.  This gives you the basic argument that women’s shirts are not meant to be hung up at all.  Case closed.  Throw the shirt in the linen closet and hang up the fitted sheet, which somehow stays on the hanger.  

6.  Ignore the problem, just like your budget issues.  Eventually, all the shirts will magically be hung up on their own.  Be careful though because when this happens, for some reason your wife may start to complain to you about something.  The word “shirt” will get thrown around a lot.  Play dumb.  “Shorts?  Sure, the shorts are in the drawer.”  Continue to ignore the problem of the shirts until you get that weird twitch in your eye from unresolved shirt issues.    

7.    Start a religion, not a cult because that’s creepy, and register it.  Your main tenet will be “NO WOMEN’S SHIRTS ON HANGERS.”  Make signs and then have your apostles go door to door handing out pamphlets.    Change the very culture that we find ourselves in.  Hopefully, praise to the no-shirts, the world will come to realize that women’s shirts must never be put up on hangers.  On December 25th, we can all give each other bottles of bourbon or wine, dealer’s choice, and talk about the old days of women’s shirts and hangers.  

Enjoy the read?  Good, then do a fella a solid and hit that little Facebook share button down below.  Yup, they are brand new. Let's test a few of them out and see if we can give an early Christmas present to Hossman.  He's a nice guy, I swear it. Unless you are between him and a peanut butter cookie, then all bets are off. 


Destroying My Son

"Do you want to learn or do you want to continue to get your butt kicked," My 10-year-old son says.  Those words are just full of a condescending attitude, that bullshit dripping from each and every syllable.

"I want to learn," I say as he tries to grab the game controller away from me.  I jerk my hand away, taking advantage of my two extra feet of height to thwart him.  It's my only attempt to keep the power shift from happening even though I'm pretty sure that has already occurred.

"Behind you, Dad!  Behind you!"  He says.  It still sounds condescending.  Like he is stating the most obvious answer in the world.   He's acting like I'm a flat-earther and he's Bill Nye.  Jesus Christ, I can feel his eyes roll when I get light sabered in the back.

"Dad.  You have to check behind you."
"I was checking behind me," I say.
"No you weren't, that's why your character got chopped in half."
"Yoda didn't get chopped in half.  He's just resting his eyes a bit."

My boy slugs me in the shoulder as I hit the respawn button on the Xbox.  We are playing his new game in the living room.  My daughter sits on the couch, checked out to the world with her headphones in.  She treats her phone like a personal assistant but I'm pretty sure she isn't as crass with it as my frustrated son is with me.

The toddler is banging on stuff and chunking it off the top of the stairs.  Yeah, that's where we are at with him at the moment.  Every stuffed animal gets a free flying lesson from the top of the stairs.  He has the dog with him.  I should talk to the boy pretty soon just to make sure we know that living things don't get the death push from up there.

This leaves me and my middle son playing Star Wars Battlefront II.  I'll admit, the game is pretty cool.  The graphics awaken my own ten-year-old self, gets me excited.  Yoda, Vadar, Luke:  all the characters that you can play.  Do or Do Not is no longer a movie tagline, it's real life and I'm getting my ass handed to me by someone that thinks that fart contests are cool.

Well, they are cool but that's another story.

"Here, let me show you," Bubba Hoss says again.  This time I just push him away.  I'm going to destroy him this time.  I'm going to Yoda these nuts all over his character, make him truly question his existence.  I'll get Han to make out with Leia and make kissy noises until he can't take it anymore.  My goal here is to put him into therapy for the rest of his life, the best kind of fatherly vengeance.

The next match lasts less than a minute.  He force choked me.  He did it while laughing.

"I told you, look behind you," he says.

I'm going to smack him.

I go to the garage and grab one of the folding lawn chairs and put it in front of the T.V., the universal sign that Dad is getting serious.  I was playing games before he was even thought about.  First person shooters?  I was there at their beginning.  Standing is wearing me out, my knees start to hurt and I was too far away from the screen to see properly.  I do some thumb stretching exercises and crack my knuckles just to get into his head.  You hear that, boy?  Knuckles are cracking, I'm going to destroy you.

"Again," I say.
"Are you sure?" he asks.
"Start it, smart ass."

He does but it seems he is reluctant to hit the button.  He doesn't want to be seen as picking on me, pilling on the garbage he's throwing my way.

The game starts.  He's the Galactic Empire, Vader.  He always wants to be Vader.  It's happened so much that I've had a sit-down talk with him.  Don't be evil, it's really a simple lesson but one that I feel doesn't get talked about enough.  He ignored me.  The Dark Side has claimed my boy.  My duty is clear now, I must destroy him.

"Bacon Hoss, get down here," I yell at my four-year-old who has stopped throwing things over the stairs.  His little feet come pounding down, jumping off the last two steps instead of walking down them.  We don't do normal in this family.  He skips to my side.

"Yeah, Dad?" Bacon asks.
"Sit tight."

I can see Bubba Hoss stalking me.  He's trying to outflank me, get behind me yet again.  I can pretty much hear him salivating at his next force choke.  Or maybe he'll try to throw me off a ledge this time.  He is totally focused on my destruction.

But here's the thing.  He's 10.  That's it.  Still a kid.  He hasn't learned to think tactically yet.  It's all button smashing and charging ahead without a plan.  Bubba Hoss is counting on his superior eyesight and faster reflexes.  However, he has not yet read Sun Tzu's Art of War.  He has failed and doesn't know it yet.   Know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.  In short, Bubba Hoss has forgotten the face of his father.   He has forgotten who I am.

I know that he is trying to get around me, to come at me from behind because I'm watching his screen.  I let him come in closer.  He's actually snickering.  He's trying to be quiet about it and failing.  I let him come.

So close.  He's so close.  One little force choke button away from defeating dear old dad once again.

I grab his controller, my reflexes still fast enough for the occasional surprise.  Tactics.  Games are all about tactics and strategy.  Bubba Hoss has forgotten this.  He thinks the game is contained, only what happens on the screen determines the outcome.

"Hey!" He starts to scream but I don't listen.  This was my plan.  I give the controller to the toddler.
"Go!" I tell him.  "Go!"
The toddler takes off while I use my free hand to hold Bubba Hoss back.
"Top of the stairs, boy!  Top of the stairs!"

Bubba Hoss tries to break free of my grip.  He cannot.  I've got him.  I use my legs to lock him in front of me.

"Uh-oh.  Looks like Vader is having some troubles," I say.  The character on the screen is turning in circles so fast that it's just a blur.  My four-year-old is doing some button smashing of his own.  But not on my half of the screen.  On my half, Yoda very calmly walks towards Vader.

"You might want to turn away, boy.  This isn't going to be pretty," I tell him.
"You cheated!"
"There isn't cheating in war, son.  It's just the way it is."
"It's still cheating!"
"I'm teaching.  Do you want to learn or get your butt kicked?"

I have never said something so satisfying in all my life.
My vengeance is not quick.


Should I Allow My Wife To Work...

Today, I let Dear Wifey go to work!  I know, it's a big thing letting Dear Wifey go into the big downtown without me.  But she was just so cute getting ready this morning, how could I not just sit and smile?

Dear Wifey got dressed and then even managed to start the car, all by herself!  I was so proud of her when she rolled down her window and told me that she would need to put air in her tires.  I asked her if she knew where the gas station was but she left without hearing me.  I hope that Dear Wifey knows what to do:)

Dear Wifey got there safely, but not without some trouble on the way.  She ran into traffic!  Oh, Dear Wifey, don't I know how bad that sucks.  Traffic is so hard, right?  As a man, I totally relate to driving in traffic while going to work.  It's such a big change for her, leaving the house without the kids to actually enter the world without me by her side.  How will she manage without me there???

Dear Wifey texted me throughout the day.  She said that she had lots of meetings.  Meetings!  With MEN!  MEN!  Oh, she's in trouble now, isn't she?  I told her to just keep her head down and to remember to add numbers or get someone coffee.  Numbers are hard because they aren't cleaning or cooking.  She was just so precious when she tried to explain to me about ad campaigns.

She had to go get lunch and do some networking.  Wow, networking for Dear Wifey.  She's a fish out of water, isn't she?  It is so hard talking to other people about work stuff that I was really worried about her.  She even sent me a picture of her with other people eating at a fancy restaurant.  I had to remind her not to talk about menstruation in front of work colleagues.  But you know wives, she probably did it anyway.  LOL.

Dear Wifey called me, all upset in the afternoon.  She said that she was trying to read a spreadsheet and that it was really big.  I asked her what was wrong with that.  She said it was just so many numbers and fancy business words. "Don't worry," I told Dear Wifey, "When you get home I will explain monies to you."  That seemed to make her feel better.

At the end of the day, Dear Wifey had to come back home.  But before she could make it here, she had to talk to a mechanic about the air in her tires.  I guess she couldn't figure out how to fix that after all.  Ha Ha.

I let her back into the house and asked her how her day was.  Dear Wifey said it was hard and that there were a lot of people doing business things.  I patted her on the back and then allowed her to go back to her kitchen.  Dear Wifey survived and didn't kill anyone!  Lulz and whatever the fuck else.


We should all be good and pissed off about that condescending garbage written up top.  If you are not, then you are part of the fucking problem.

I see articles like this all the time except from the other side.  Dear Husband is left alone with the kids, to say, make breakfast.  And holy shit, he makes a disaster of it.  But it's ok, he's ONLY A DAD.  What the actual Jesus Fuck?  That's the message:  Dad doesn't know what he is doing so let's all celebrate it.  Go to any big parenting site and I guarantee you will find at least one story like this. 

The last one of these I read was a dad who only had to get his kids ready for school.  They weren't even toddlers.  They were goddamn teenagers.  How fucking hard is that?  And what was the last line of the article?  "He survived.  LOL." 

There's a name for this.  It's called the buffoon dad.  It's the Homer Simpson syndrome.  An inept father who can't be bothered to actually parent his kids.  And we fucking celebrate this.  But you know, buffoons aren't funny if there isn't any redemption.  It's just sad. I read these and pity everyone involved. 

Stop giving us father's credit for stupid shit.  None of us deserves any special recognition for making breakfast, taking the kids anywhere, or buying a gallon of milk.  I mean for fuck's sake, is our bar for success so god damn low?  And when these articles are written, when that message gets out there, it demeans us all.  So fucking stop it.  Does everyone see now, when the story is flipped, how pathetic that shit is? 

Where are the awesome fatherhood stories?  The ones that show dad's doing something truly remarkable?  I mean, Christ people, these dads are everywhere and should be celebrated.  I know a guy that runs two boy scout troops, the pack, two soccer teams, works full time and countless other activities.  Including making fucking breakfast for his kids without a fucking word.  He does it because he's Dad.  Let's celebrate that guy.  That's right, Micah, let's celebrate you.  That's the guy that we should all recognize as an awesome father. 

But those stories don't really exist.  They are hidden behind every post where a father can't even manage to get to the kids to school by 9 am.  Let's continue to go down this rabbit hole.  Why aren't we celebrating the moms that bust their ass to bring in the income?  Those women are the role models and we should sing their praises.  My own wife has provided for us for nine god damn years.  That's who we should be tipping our hats to.  The parents that bust ass 24/7.

Look, I know what I write and I know the comedic value of a character being placed in a situation that he isn't familiar with.  Fine, go with it.  But as a father if you aren't familiar with cleaning the house or changing a diaper, there is something wrong with you.  And we shouldn't cheer it on.  We should give some real god damn stories that at least show you what it looks like to actually fucking try.  Yes, show the failures, but also show that Hulk Hogan moment.  The whole world is going to shit, your back is up against a wall and the audiecne thinks you aren't going to make it.  Then bam, you figure it out, do things your way and save the day.  That's a redemption story and it's the one that we should all be writing.  Not the sad sack of shit that thinks he deserves credit for learning how to carpool. 

Because here is the truth, and it's been said a million times now but let's say it again:  Dads Don't Babysit.  We parent.  Even when we fail, we fail as a parent.  Celebrate the comeback story, not the clueless turd that never bothers to learn from his mistakes.  At the very least, our measure of success shouldn't be if all the kids are all alive at the end of the story.  We are better than that, let's show it. 


How To Watch Movies As A Dad

Princess Belle needs to lay down some weed and feed.  A whole crap ton, actually.  She would probably be better suited to just going down to the local gardening store and getting a sprayer and a truck delivery.  Seriously, she needs to buy it in bulk.

At the start of Beauty and the Beast, maybe 15 minutes in, Princess Belle is dancing in a meadow. She breaks out into song, like you do.  What I see, as a father, is not the story of a woman who falls in love with an abuser.  Well, I do see that.  But what I see as a suburban father (and homeowner) is a field full of weeds.  Oh, I'm sure others may call them "wildflowers" or "set design."  However, to the highly trained suburban dad, I call them "shit that ruins my yard."  And I'm a little miffed at the Beauty and Beast village that no father figure has stepped up with his weed spreader to take care of the problem.  If you don't nip it in the bud now, at the source, it's only going to spread.  Then you are going to have the HOA coming down on your ass.  Who needs that?

This is what fatherhood has done to my movie watching.  I constantly get pulled out of the story because I can no longer ignore some things that I see.  I want to.  I try to.  I can't.  The movie will be going along fine until I see something, that as a dad, makes me cringe.

Bladerunner, both the old and the new movie.  They are both very dark movies and I don't just mean the subject manner.  Hey, I'm all down for the robot love of the future.  Apparently, all this robot love takes place in the night.  Which means a lot of lights.  But here's the thing, even with all those lights--neon and colorful--it's still very dark.  The Dad in me wonders how much electricity they are wasting.  I know that shit isn't free in the future.  Is there some Blade Runner dad going around turning off all those lights when no one needs them?  And if he is, he's probably dying inside because it's obvious they are using the wrong wattage.  That light isn't bright enough.  Which means they probably aren't using the good LED energy saving brands.  With so many lights to change, it's probably the cheap knockoff shit which means they burn out a lot.  How often do they have to replace those bulbs?  Whoever runs that city is just making more work for dad.  I would totally watch a movie where utility bills don't exist.  It would be some post-apocalyptic thriller where a dad has to scrounge around for the proper wattage light bulb and eat people on occasion.

Marvel superhero movies send my inner rage out of control.  When Hulk smashes into a building, what I see is property taxes going up.  Oh, sure, the buildings probably have insurance.  But that means that they are going to have to make a claim, which means rents are going up.  Don't Millenials have enough to worry about?  Rents are already out of control.  And we all know that debris is going to ruin sidewalks and that's the real rub, where the real consumer is going to get hit.  Sales tax will have to go up to repair those streets.  I don't see Captain America out there with a hard hat laying asphalt.  And let's be clear, I can't welcome all those Millenials into the suburbs.  That will make my taxes go up, with all their demand for affordable housing. Then the Avengers will follow and bam, my sidewalks get jacked up.  What happens if they break a water line?  Who's going to pay for that shit?  If it's on my property, me, that's who.  I'm going to have to sit out in the front of my hose, with my water house, spraying down aliens and Iron Man while screaming "Get Off My Lawn!"  And, I'll mean it.  Surubarn dads have lawyers, I'm going to sue.

Every Lego movie makes me cringe.  Sure, they are clever and action packed.  However, when there's an explosion in a Lego movie, I see a thousand tiny parts going every where.  Those tiny little Lego bricks that hurt like a son of a bitch when you step on them in the middle of the night.  It's like I have PTSD from Lego injuries.  The center of my foot gets sore just thinking about it.  And they jack up the vacuum cleaner, especially those clear ones that I can't see.  That's a 1/2 hour just to fix the vacuum cleaner.  Then you've got a busted scene and someone has got to put it back together.  Yeah, that's going to be dad.  Three hours of work just so that I can do it all over again when Batman comes screeching through.

Seriously, watching movies is exhausting with dad brain.

Aliens came on recently, the second one that is really good.  Ripley was getting ready to beat some mother queen ass.

"Little Hoss!" I screamed.  "Get in here!"

"What?" She asked.

"Come here and watch this movie."

She sat and together we enjoyed Ripley running around trying to save Newt.  The little girl gets taken, the mother queen lays some gross looking eggs, Ripley saves the day and they escape.

Little Hoss buried her head into my shoulder, right at the good part where Ripley doesn't know that the Queen smuggled herself on board.  Little Hoss knows that something is coming, she can feel the tension of the scene.

"Look, baby, you need to watch this," I said.

"Is it scary?" She asked.

"Yeah, totally.  Watch."

Sometimes being a father means facing those fears together.

The Queen rips Bishop in half, Little Hoss screams.  Ripley runs away, leaving the little girl.

"She can't leave!  She can't leave Newt!" Little Hoss yells at the screen.  "Be brave, Rip!"

And then Ripley shows up in a front loader robot to kick some alien ass.  Little Hoss cheers, I cheer even though I have seen this movie a hundred times.  The fight is on.

"Get her!  Get the Queen!" Little Hoss says.  She's jumping up and down.

"See that honey!" I said to my daughter.  "That, that is what I wanted you to see.  When you grow up, be Ripley.  That's who you have to be!"

A dad's brain never turns off, I don't think it can.  That doens't mean that it always sees the bad things though.  Sometimes it sees the awesome and takes the opportunity to show his daughter how to jump in some heavy equipment to throw monsters out of the airlocks.

But yeah, when I see an airlock, what I think is "Close that thing, you are letting all the cool air out.  Do you have any idea how high our electric bill is?  Where you raised in a barn?"


The Nut Ninja

Photo by Frida Aguilar Estrada on Unsplash

The fight moves from the stairs to the living room floor.  Little fists of fury swing wildly, hitting air, occasionally connecting with a pillow that Bubba Hoss holds up to defend himself.  The toddler, Bacon, tries to push it aside so that he can get a clean shot.  He is small and the pillow is large, his target just out of his reach.  He's a four-year-old that just wants to hit his older brother in the balls.

Bubba dodges left, feints right, tucks and rolls like Captain Kirk escaping a green alien.  He slides past the dog and near the couch.  The toddler follows, stalking with heavy footfalls and the sour-stink breath of too many juice boxes but somehow not enough sugar.

There is a laugh, it is maniacal.  A high-pitched cackle that would give Wicked Witch of the West goosebumps.  Whose laugh is it?  The toddler determined to destroy nuts or the older brother that is clearly toying with this little welp?  I do not know because I'm sitting in my chair placing bets on who will win first.

The dog jumps on my lap, tail wagging enough so that it smacks the fake leather.  We can't afford real leather, we have children.  The fake leather makes a sharp pitch when his tail hits it.  It sounds like the dogs own version of maniacal laughter.  The dog licks my face once, turns and presents his butthole inches from my face.  He is showing dominance.  He jumps, one of his feet pushing squarely off one of my own balls and somehow I have become a casualty of the nut hitting game I currently watch

The dog crashes against Hossmom, she holds her wine glass up high to prevent any spills onto our wine stained couch.  She grumbles, mumbles under her breath at the dog or the children.  It's tough to determine which because I have re-entered spectator mode.  My two boys continue to go at it with Bubba Hoss using his superior 10-year-old reach to keep the toddler at bay.

The fight has been going on for at least 15 minutes.  The opening bell was my announcement "go upstairs, your mom and I would like to sit in peace."  What they heard was "Go to your corners and then come out fighting."

This is our quiet time routine in the middle of the evening, that twilight time of "after dinner" and "just before bedtime."  In this strange dimension, quiet time means something completely opposite than what one would think.

The boys are locked in combat now, arms intertwined in the struggle.  They leap to the couch, stand on it.  Together, they bounce on the cushions, leap off the arms and dig their dirty little nails into the fabric.  Hossmom again holds up her wine on instinct.  The dog joins the fray.  I should make a sign that says "our furniture is not playground equipment" but I find that the statement has the same effect as asking for quiet time.

Can the toddler get the nut shot in?  I give him 4 to 1 odds.  He is outgunned and lacks the tactical knowledge of his older brother.  However, he charges forward with the confidence of the fanatic.  Swinging, swinging, missing the balls of his older brother.  The dog barks his encouragement.

Bubba Hoss goes down.  His foot got stuck in between the cushions and he tumbles.  His head hits the soft padding of the wine-soaked couch.  The toddler sees his opportunity, leaps forward, a battle cry erupts from his lips.  His fist goes back, the tension of a taut bow ready to be released.

Bubba puts out his foot, his hands fly to his crotch in the universal protection gesture.  He lashes out, catches the toddler in the chest.  The blow is deflecting, not solid, but good enough that it catches Bacon Hoss unaware.  He slips, goes to a knee and then starts to slide off the couch backward towards the floor.  Before he makes contact, in that moment that lasts for an eternity, he yells his final words before he will start crying.

"God Damnit!"  From the mouth of babes.

Hossmom's eyes snap up, away from her phone and whatever article of pop culture she is reading.  The wine glass, still held in the air, tips a bit.  We have a new stain on the couch.  Those eyes don't look to the toddler, who lands with a thud, but to me.  Lazer focused right to the middle of my soul.

Bubba Hoss goes quiet and his gaze also goes to me.  He knows the phrase just uttered, the final desperate cry of the nut ninja.  I hear my daughter start to thunder down the stairs as the swear was yelled loud enough, and in that toddler way--all lispy and cute, that it has taken her away from the four million texts that she sends each night.

The toddler whimpers and sits up.  Everyone is looking at dad.  The dog jumps up on my chair, once again presenting his butthole to my face.

God Damnit.  The boy said God Damnit as he was pushed off the couch.  The room finally gets quiet, which it only does when someone does something that they know to be wrong.

I throw my hands up into the air.  This is it, the pinnacle of fatherhood achievement.  Nine years as an at-home-dad, countless misadventures, enough cusswords uttered to complete a New York Times crossword puzzle.

All my children have used an appropriate cussword, at the appropriate time, before the age of five.  Little Hoss once told the cat to "fucking move" when I was attempting to put together a random toy and had just said it to the cat five minutes before.  At age three, Bubba Hoss said "shit" when he dropped a toy behind the couch.  And now Bacon Hoss, four years old, let's loose with a God Damnit.

I would like to thank all those that have supported me through this training.  To Hossmom for all of her evil looks, to my children that have stood by me in the toughest of times, and to my niece that gets out a swear jar every time I spend time with her.  But most importantly, I would like to thank the divorce lawyer that will be serving me papers next week.

"Ok, that's it.  Bedtime!" I bellow, ending fight night in the Hossman household.

"Did he just say..." my daughter begins.

"No questions!  Upstairs!"  I gather the children and begin to start the bedtime routine that I am sure I will be doing alone tonight. Hossmom still has some wine in her glass.   "Move!"

I grab the toddler by the shoulder and turn him toward me, letting the other two hide away upstairs from the upcoming swear lecture that we seem to give an aweful lot in this house.

"We don't say God Damnit, boy.  Got it?"

"Yes, Daddy."

"Seriously, don't say it."

"Ok," he says.

He holds his arms wide.  We are going in for the hug to seal the pact we have just made.  Don't cuss.  I take a step towards him.

His right arm drops too quickly for me to understand, he takes a step forward and I notice that his thumb is on the outside of his fist.  I admire his proper technique for a quick second, distracted by it.  The punch hits me in the balls, square, catching both the left and right like a 7-10 split.  I double up and pitter-patter feet zoom upstairs to the music of that maniacal laugh.

"God Damnit."


Surviving The Wife's Office Party

Photo by Matty Adame on Unsplash
It all starts with the crusted ravioli.  Is there cheese inside or meat?  Since this is a fancy party, maybe it's something that I haven't imagined yet.  Perhaps a jelly of some type infused with gold leaf foil.  That would be fancy as fuck and this is a fancy fucking place.  I take a bite, fried goodness crunches and I contemplate the ravioli instead of paying attention the conversation that my wife is having.

There is another couple with us on the couch.  This is a party for my wife's boss and his new bride, a celebration of the nuptials.  They are around here somewhere, I met one of them.  They are mingling while we hang with the couch couple.   The couch couple seems very nice, tell pretty good jokes, and have no obvious evil intentions.  I have to be on the lookout at my wife's work social functions.  As an at-home-dad, I have been out of the office politics game for a pretty long time.  The ulterior motives that I usually run into involve scamming another cupcake or juice box.  On a side note, there are cupcakes here.  I'll get to them in a bit.

Around us are all the work people and various family members of the happy couple who just got married.   Everyone seems nice and I have absolutely no connection to any of them.  I am the +1, the rando guy that shows up just to judge you on the quality of food that is served and if there is free alcohol.  I give this party a plus 10.  There is free whiskey, pizza, and these ravioli things.

I go to these parties every year with Hossmom.  In that time, I have become the master at blending in and small talk.  I find it easy, there is no pressure here on me at all.  My wife has to say all the right things, talk to the right people and basically not make a fool of herself.  But for me, I'm different.  I have no one to impress.  No one even knows who I am and my wife can safely distance herself from me at any moment.  I'm two glasses of whiskey in as I study the ravioli.  I think it's got cheese in there.

Hossmom usually does a terrible job with me at these things.  I don't mean that she embarrasses herself.  I mean that she forgets to introduce me at all.  At the beginning of the party, she left me hanging talking to some guy about hair dryers and steak.  I love steak so it was all good.  Hair dryers, not so much.  My wife is in advertising so you would be surprised at the conversations that get linked together.  Such as the meat hair dyers--both clients that her company represents.

I have learned that it is better to roam around and just introduce myself, networking for no other reason than practice.  I've gotten pretty good at it.  Once you learn that there are no real consequences for what you say, because these people will never see you again, I can crack jokes left and right all night.  No accountability, that is how you survive these things.

Hossmom is talking to her work friends and the husband about advertising.  They are deep into shop talk, as one of the other husbands works in advertising.  I nod at the appropriate places, maybe tell a joke somewhere, then get back to my happy place--the crusted ravioli.  Now I think there is some meat in there.  I should see if anyone has a hair dryer handy so I can use it to figure this ravioli out.

That's the next thing I learned about surviving my wife's work parties.  Always appear busy.  No one wants to the be odd duck sitting next to the wall appearing to do nothing, looking longingly at people having fun.  No, that won't do at all.  So I usually find something to keep myself busy like a mysterious fried ravioli.  So many questions, so many things to discover.  As my wife and her work friends go deeper into which advertising company has lost which clients, I Indiana Jones the ravioli.

I met my wife's boss at the beginning.  Seems like a nice guy, tall as a pine tree in rural Arkansas.  A friendly smile, manly handshake and easily sized up.  This is my next trick--determining who I could take in a fight.  I'm not a violent person, not at all.  I just like the mental exercise of it.  It keeps me busy as everyone discussed whatever advertising deck they are preparing.  Tall guy probably has a pretty good reach.  So I would have to close that distance and get to his legs.  Once he is subdued, I can get to the ravioli.   Advertising people don't look very tough, throughout the years I've decided that I could take most of them.  Maybe not the meat hair dryer guy though, he looks serious.

I've eaten about eight of the ravioli things so far.  My stomach feels full but I'm going to keep eating.  I imagined a whole fake fight just to get to this point, I better keep eating.  Definalty meat and cheese in here.  Erin and her friends have started to discuss which companies are on the downswing.  They are bringing up names of people that I don't know, doing jobs that I have no idea exist.  I wonder how much they bullshit each other at these things.  Probably a lot and it's sad that they don't get a chance to truly taste the delicious ravioli.

I spy the cupcakes in the corner.  They are fancy too.  Not normal cupcakes bought from the grocery store.  These have been catered, they have only a wisp of frosting on the top.  I think I see a red velvet one in there.  I call dibs.  I eat four of them before Hossmom announces that it is time to go. I say goodbye to my ravioli and the experience that we shared. 

This is my last lesson of surviving the spouse work party.  When it's time to go, go out with a bang.  Shake the hands, smile and leave a lasting impression.

We say goodbye to our couple friends.  Hossmom says something in advertising or Klingon, I'm not sure which, and we head to the door.  The bride is there!  I haven't met the bride yet.  As usual, Hossmom doesn't introduce us.  So yeah, do my thing.

"Hi!  Great party!  Really lovely time.  Congratulations."

"Thank you!" she says.  She really does look wonderful, pure happiness on her face but she also looks a bit confused.  Who the hell is this guy with ravioli crumbs in his beard?  "I don't think we've had a chance to meet yet."

"Nope.  I'm a plus one.  We should hang out next time.  I'm very fun."

As I leave, I hear one of the other guests start laughing asking "Who was that?"

I'm basically a +1 ninja.


Stop Trying To Be Mom

I hate writing advice columns, so naturally, I've decided that it's time to do one.  So there you go, this is the moment that I have become a complete sellout.  Mark it on your calendars, boys and girls, Hossman is going to dish out advice like Dear Abby just took a shot of Redbull and vodka.

At-home-dads--stop trying to be mom.  There, fuck it, I've said it.  I can hear a whole lot of browser's closing right now and feel those eye rolls.  Who the hell is this guy?  Is he trying to piss off everyone?

Pretty much.

But here's what I mean.  Mom's are awesome.  I have one and I'm married to one.  They are good Ford people, salt of the earth women that should be put up on pedestals.  They should be celebrated and acknowledged for all the truly heroic things that they do.  If you haven't called your mother in a while, then stop reading and do that.  Mom's worry all the time.  Seriously, all the fucking time.  It comes with the pregnancy hormones in the first trimester.  They were carefree before kids, then the change happens, and worry is born nine months later.  So pick up the phone and call your mom, she's worried about you.  It's Friday, mom is always worried on Fridays.  Help the lady out, don't be a douchebag.

However, that doesn't mean that us Dad's have to be mom.  And if you are trying to be mom, fucking stop it.  You can't compete on that level, my man.  It's a losing game.   You don't have the skills for it, you are ill prepared to roll in that game.  They will be doing deep corner routes while you are trying to figure out where the first down marker is.  They are the star athletes and you are the water boy to the water boy.

Nine years, I have spent nine years doing the stay at home dad thing.  I've joined Mom's groups, I've tried to join more when the first one didn't work out.  I've done the mall playground thing, I've died a little bit inside when I get the side-eye at the outdoor playground.  I've tried to craft things out of flowers, devoured Pinterest to come up with ideas about what to buy at Micheals.  I've hot glued my fingers to paper plates.

And then I stopped trying to be mom.

It doesn't work, can't be done.  The Mom standard is so ridiculously high that it's a goal that we will never reach, nor do I want to anymore.  I would love to have the respect of moms, that's about it.  I would love to not hear "Are you babysitting, today" anymore.  It's not going to happen.  So let's be dad, let's do the kid raising thing the way we want to, the things that we are good at.

Crafting--put down the scissors and grab a fucking hammer.  Go build something majestic.  Want to know how to build a real trebuchet?  Leave a comment, I'll tell you how it's done.  Then do the ballista with flaming arrows.  Some dad around here knows how to craft a bitching robot that throws marshmallows.  Go find that guy and ask them if it's cool to light the marshmallows on fire. 

Reading time--you ever go to the library and find yourself the only man there?  Embrace that shit.  And I don't mean in a Homer Simpson bumbling way.  You know what you are doing, fucking have confidence in it.  Maybe your kid likes reading about purple dinosaurs, fine, cool.  But maybe your 6-month-old also wants to listen to you read a book about the dangers of the Galactic Empire and the importance of Do or Do Not.  Grab that book, be that guy.  That means that you are going to spend a whole lot of time alone.  It's cool, I love you, you do you.

Cleaning--a shop vac is better than a regular vacuum cleaner.  "But those belong in a garage," people will say.  Bullshit.  Those belong near the dining room table next to the entire box of cereal that your kid has just dumped over.  Get a shop vac.  Let the kids decorate it and cover it with stickers.  Give it the name Mad Max and tell your daughter it's time to rev the engine.

Playground--if you are going to the mall playground, stop it.  Sorry man, I know it's easy but we all know that you are there because something is dying inside of you.  That's not you, that's not dad.  Sure, they are good for a quick adventure on a cold morning.  But what is going to happen is that you are going to be sitting there all alone. And a guy all alone is going to freak people out at those types of places.  I wish it wasn't true, but it is.  I know a guy that was yelled at this last summer because he did this.  He was just chilling, watching his daughter.  You know where it's cool to be alone and also won't shrivel your soul up?  Civil war museum.  Your kid doesn't care where you go.  They just want to be with you.  So take them to places you actually want to go to.  And that is not the mall.  Maybe it's a tour of the local major league baseball stadium.  Grow a pair, get it done.

"Oh, he's just a dad"--I swear to all that is holy if you hear this, you better correct that shit immediately.  Your kid shows up to preschool wearing a tutu with a clashing red top.  Fuck it, the kid wanted to wear a tutu with a red top.  Own that shit.  If it's a dad thing to let your kid be them, then be a fucking Dad.  Having a bad day and things not working out very well?  "Oh, he's just a dad," you might hear.  Speak up.  No, I'm not having a bad day because I'm a dad.  I'm having a bad day because the toddler doesn't want to eat vegetables and I'm parenting the shit out of this situation.

Don't wait to be invited--Look, it's your kid and no one else's.  If they need a bottle in the middle of the night, volunteer for that shit.  Feed your kid, watch some Star Trek while you do it.  Don't wait for someone to ask you, do it.  We, other dads, expect that shit out of you.  Don't be passive.  If your kid is screaming and someone (in-laws, looking at you) tries to take them out of your arms because "You're just a dad", then you put that kid in a football hold and don't give the ball up.  You have the ability to comfort your kid.  You know this, don't be pushed aside because you have a dick.

Teach your kid how to grill a steak.  Pretty self-explanatory there.

Diaper bags--none of us carry diaper bags.  Jesus Christ, stop calling it that.  We carry backpacks of awesome.  Most times that bag does have diapers and wipes. and sometimes that bag has duct tape and pliers.  Because we all know your kid is going to break shit and it's your job as dad to fix it.  Carry the tools to do it.  And for the love of all that is holy, your bag should never be "mauve, maroon, or burgundy."  It's either green, red or a different red and the color completely doesn't matter.  What matters is if it has a cooler section for breast milk and beer.  Go to the camping section of your local store and gear up.

It is not considered special or sweet that we hug our kid or take them places.  I hear it all the time.  Look at that dad, he's such a good dad for spending time with his kid.  No, I'm not a good dad for being with my kid.  He's my kid, why wouldn't I want to be with her?  No one else is going to teach her to put her thumb on the outside when she punches so she won't break it.  I'm not a good dad, I'm just a dad.  And dad's love to hug their kids.  Don't let other people hold us to lower standards than Mom's hold to themselves.  If it is unusual for a dad to spend time with their kid, well, that's fucked up.

Acknowledge and embrace the fear--We are going to have some bad days.  And some bad days turn into bad weeks.  Then that shit gets in our head.  We start to wonder if we are good enough, that maybe we suck balls.  Hello to depression and a feeling of poor self-worth.  You don't have to face any of that shit with a stoic outer appearance.  It's ok to feel less than awesome sometimes and it's ok to talk about it.  I know that dads are supposed to be these rocks that aren't afraid of anything.  But you know what, sometimes when I hear a weird noise downstairs, it freaks me out too.  I make the dog come with me because he's way braver than me.  And it's ok to let your wife or your kid know that sometimes your head gets a little messed up.  We aren't John Wayne.  John Wayne wasn't even John Wayne and it's ok to talk about it.

Finally, and I swear I'll never write an advice post again, have some confidence in yourself.  Being different does not mean being worse.  Don't worry about the perceptions out there, I know that it can be tough.  This is not a competition and we don't have to do things because that's how it has been done.  Don't care.  Be a dad, be the guy you would want to hang out with.   Don't get sidelined, don't get caught up in expectations.

Because the only person's opinion that should matter to you is that little two-foot individual that sits in your lap and occasionally hits you in the balls.  Take care of that person and the rest of the world will fade away.


How To Pet A Spider

"Do you want us to take Elvira out o the cage so you can get a better look at her," the Spider Wrangler asks me. 

"Uh, hell yes I do!" I say.  Because honestly, who doesn't want to get a better look at a giant tarantula?  Actually, no I don't but I can't back down in front of the Wrangler, can I?  That wouldn't be very manly, not manly at all.

But as she gets the tarantula out of its cage/evil lair, I start to question a couple of things.  Do I really care if I look manly in front of a random stranger at this new nature center?  Why the hell does this matter to me?  It doesn't matter to Bacon Hoss, my four-year-old.  As soon as the spider cage is open, he yelps and then buries his head in the back of my knee, his little hands clenching parts of my blue jeans. 

The lady in front of me, who seems like she has no fear, starts to try and coax the spider out. 

"Come on, Elvira.  Come on out," she says.  She clicks her tongue like she is calling a dog or a pig on the farm.  I begin to question her qualifications.  Is she really a spider wrangler, is that a thing?  I assume it is but I'm not sure the one in front of me is part of the guild.  I haven't seen any paperwork nor any kind of official badge.  Something gold plated with her name on it would be nice, just to put everyone at ease here.  Is her only qualification for handling this little gem of nightmare fuel is that she isn't dead yet and hanging from the rafters in a cocoon? 

"So, it's a she?" I ask, mostly to break the tension and to remind my self to breath. 

"Yup!" the Spider Wrangler says. 

"Does she bite?"  There you go, probably a question I should have asked before I agreed to this.  I try and be polite about it, I really don't want the Wrangler freaking out here as the spider approaches her hand. 

"Oh, of course not.  She's gentle," the Wrangler says.  I notice that she's wearing a glove as the tarantula climbs from the cage. 

Bacon Hoss digs his face deeper into my knee as the spider climbs aboard.  I stop breathing myself, make no sound what so ever.  The thought of spooking the Wrangler sends shivers down my neck.  What if she gets freaked out and accidentally throws the spider at my face?  I bunch my fist as I think of this, fully prepared to come out swinging at myself if anything goes wrong. 

Elvira makes the transition to the Wrangler's hand. The wrangler stands a little straighter now and takes a step towards me.  I should punch the spider now.  Suddenly, I'm a very big believer in pre-emptive strikes. 

The tarantula doesn't jump.  Its mouth seems to be working overtime.  Is this the tarantula equivalent of licking its lips?  It's 8 legs (I did indeed count) shuffle a bit forward, but slowly.  The Wrangler still seems to be in good spirits as she comes even closer.   It is possible that the tarantula has sucked out her soul before I got here and now she only does Elvira's bidding? "Bring me closer to the fresh meat, Wrangler!  YESSSSSSS, CLOSSSERRRRR."  I know spider's don't hiss, I get that.  But it's what is in my head as the wrangler brings the tarantula up closer to my face so I can get a better look at it. 

I close my eyes. 

"Oh, she's nothing to be afraid of," Says the Wrangler. 

Bacon Hoss takes off.  I can feel him let go, he squeals as he runs back towards the bunny cages.  The nice safe bunnies.  I should follow him but I'm of the mindset of "NO Sudden Movements!" 

I open my eyes and look at Elvira.  I learn a very weird lesson.  Tarantulas grow 12 sizes the minute they get out of the cage.  Who knew, right?  In the cage, Elvira seemed very small, no bigger really than Bacon's little hand.  Outside the cage, and a foot from my face, she looks about the size of a dump truck.  A dump truck with mandibles that want to rip my lips off.  I breathe and see the hairs on the spider's legs bend back in the breeze. 

"Do you want to pet her?" the Wrangler asks me. 

"Hell yes, I do!" I say.  I want to punch my own self in the throat, blocking those stupid vocal chords from speaking any more.  That is not what is on my mind, not at all.  Do I want to pet satan's pet?  Fuck no, I don't.  But I don't say that.  Is this that macho thing welling up in me again?  Motherfuck, I hate that.  It can't be suppressed though, it's too ingrained, a natural mechanism that I'm sure has gotten plenty of cavemen killed through our evolution.  Why it remains, I have no idea. 

I reach out my ungloved hand.  Moving the speed of a glacier, I put one finger forward.  The payoff, the moment.  I either make friends with the beast or it rips me apart like I'm in some sort of John Carpenter movie. 

I touch the abdomen, and I swear to all that is holy, it looks like it was pulsating.  Elvira goes still.  No turning back now.  I stroke her and whisper "Good, Elvira.  Aren't you a pretty girl.  Human meat tastes sour, doesn't it?  Good, Elvira."

She's softer than I would have imagined.  The hairs are a bit prickly, but once you stroke they go a bit flat.  If I closed my eyes and go to my happy place, I could imagine that I was petting a docile garbage disposal.  But honestly, it's actually a bit pleasant.  I wonder if tarantulas purr? 

I take my hand back, again slowly.  The fear has been faced, I thank my ancestors for their macho bravery, forcing me to do something that I didn't want to do. 

"Thank you," I say.  I also figure it's a good idea to be very polite to the lady that is holding the giant spider.  "I really appreciate it."  I smile, no threats here.  I'm a good boy. 

"You're welcome," The Wrangler says.  She steps away and puts Elvira back in her cage.  I head to the bunny cage to collect my boy.  He's probably freaked out and I need to show him that dad isn't cocooned.  I text Hossmom as I walk.

"Guess what we just did..." I text Hossmom.

"What?" She responds. 

"We got to pet a tarantula!" I text back. 

"Don't come home.  Getting divorced."

Hossmom is not a big fan of spiders.  So I make sure I send her a picture that I took of Elvira, out of her cage. 

I still believe that I can hear my wife scream 40 miles away. 


Jennifer, Jason and Dumpling

Call me Jennifer.  That's the name that is on my ticket.  Jennifer.  For tonight and tonight only, I will gladly be Jennifer.  If this is what it takes to get me into the fundraiser for the local library, then Jennifer suits me just fine.  There's free food in here!

As a Jennifer, I look way more manly than I think normal Jennifer does.   My beard is a dead give away.   My date, Jason, doesn't seem to mind at all though.  Oh, his real name isn't Jason either.  It was what was printed on his ticket.  And according to those tickets, I'm his girlfriend.  Free food is an easy way to get to a man's heart named Jennifer.  

I take a bite of my free bruschetta thingy, I've had like 12.  I wash it down with a free local beer.  The judges are tallying up the votes and I'm passing the time by stuffing my face.  Later, after the trivia contest is over, I'll mosey on over to the free BBQ booth.  It's near the children's section for some reason.  

"We have a tie!" one of the judges say.  Cool, whatevs.  Let's hurry up and announce the winner because I'm worried that the fudge booth will be out of brownies by the time we get there.  Jason is a cheap date but at least he takes me to nice places.  When he asked me to come, with a free ticket, I was pretty excited.  When he told me about the food and beer, I would have slept with him right then and there.  Turns out Jennifer is easy. 

"P.T. has a total of 12 points," the judge says.  I look over at the table where Team P.T. sits.  Distinguished and regal comes to mind.  Two men, Two ladies, a whole lot of black formal wear between them.  They laugh and give awkward high-fives--the kind that people over 50 give.  It's like their trademark.  I'm still in my young 40's so I've got plenty of time to practice the missed high-five that turns into an awkward handshake.  I'll get it down eventually and be ready to use it after I visit accountants on the weekends because that's what it looks like these people do.  

"They are tied with Anyonomous Nerds!"  

Woah.  Now this shit just got real. 

Jason and I are Team Nerds.  Holy crap, we are in a tie for first place.  I almost choke on a cracker thing when I heard our team name called.  

I didn't think we would make it this far in the trivia contest.  There were two rounds, eight questions each.  Some of the questions were easy:  What Star Trek actor hosts reading rainbow?  Jordy, of course!  What is this sequence of numbers called:  0, 1, 1,2,3,5,8...?  That one I knew, thank you very much Da Vinci Code.  It was the only literary question that I was able to get tonight.  If it's popular book over the last ten years, I've got a pretty good chance of at least a solid guess.  

Jason handled the other areas.  A book cover came on the large screen in front of our table.  There were no words.  A weird looking horse in red and white.  I had no idea which book this was from.  Jason did though.  

"Catcher in the Rye," he said.  Jason is a literary bastard.  His Achilles heel though is recent popular fiction.  The man hasn't read Harry Potter yet.  When I tease him about it at writer's group, he keeps promising me that he will eventually get to it.  It's an empty promise but I nod because I like to keep the joke going.  I know he'll eventually read it and then talk about the "prose" for 20 minutes while ignoring the fact that the Dursley's are complete assholes.  He writes beautifully though, words weaving stories with sub-text intertwined with sub-plots.  

I've learned a lot from him over the last 8 months.  That and he apparently can get tickets to a free swank fundraiser.  

"We will now have a final round with just the two teams," the judge squawks over the loudspeaker.  I study our competition a bit more closely now  

I'm betting that we have at least one banker in that group of four.  Maybe the balding guy.  His suit looks tailored and his tie knot appears intentional.  His wife is probably not his wife at all.  A mistress for sure with a guy like that.  He has no morals, probably has a steak dinner while foreclosing on someone's family farm.  

His buddy, the trim guy with freshly cut gray hair, is smiling like he just ate some of that bruschetta.  I can forgive him for that, the bruschetta was fucking good.  But there is something behind that smile that I can't quite place yet.  Perhaps a proclivity toward Satan worshiping?  He has a goatee, it's certainly plausible.  Which would make his date, some woman in a black strapless hoochie mama dress, the supreme grand sorcerous to their cult.  I'm betting she calls all the shots in the group.  Her eyes are stern and focused, seeming to cow the others.   

Four of them, two of us.  Jason and I lack their experience.  Both in our early 40's, we haven't become bankers and manipulators of global interests just yet.  We write.  That's what we do.  We don't have time for nefarious plots (writer's joke, sorry).  They out number us.  Shit, I really want first prize now.  Victory goes well with locally sourced cheese curds--found by the adult fiction section.  

First prize is a book, which isn't surprising since this is a fundraiser for a library.  But the books are signed.  I want a signed book.  I'm an author, I deserve a signed book.  It's like getting your first forclosed farm as a banker.  You tend to cheerish those things.  But we are out numbered and out gunned.  

"The final catagory will be book titles, with bonus points for the author," the judge says.  

I want to stand back from my table and throw my hands up in victory.  Book titles!  I've got Jason!  Fuck yeah, book titles!  This is over, cash in your 401(k) and your golden parachute Team P.T.  We are going to take this home.  

"And they will be written in emojis!"

That sick fuck.  

Son of a bitch.  So close, so very close!  I'm a middle aged man.  I understand emojis as some sort of cyrillic language written by Eastern monks.  I want to call Vivi, my 11-year-old daughter.  She practices in emoji speak like a painter works in oils.  But I can't, it's cheating and I'm not ready to become part of Team P.T. just yet.  They are probably calling up interns to begin research because you know cheating at a trivia game is easy for people that suck the life force out of nuns.  Fucking emojis.  So close.  

The screen goes black, there is a beat before anything happens  40 people look forward, waiting for the final five questions to pop up on the board.  One of the librarians mumbles under his breath as the technology seems too great for him.  This is the guy that picked the emojis.  We are doomed. 

The screen flashes white and then the questions come up.  Immediatly, I know that we are lost.  

Who knew that Freddie Mecury could be an emoji?  But more importantly, what the hell does Freddy Mecury have to do with a title?  He's followed by dead looking face, stars, and ant.  Then some sort of bug again.  

The whole list is like this.  I go from one to the another, starting by going top down.  Once I confirm that I don't know what any of these emojis mean, I start bouncing around.  I'm willing myself to understand.  I'm thinking of my daughter, my sweet girl.  She would know what these mean.  She texts me all the time in emoji speak and I have to tell her to knock it off because Dad can't understand her.  

Jason is deep in thought.  Not breathing, concentrating.  His face seems blank for a second, then his forehead creases like he's got something.  It goes smooth again when he discoves that he does not.  

Team P.T. is starting to write on their slip of white paper now.  Long nailed hands scribble, laughing that shrivels angel's wings, heated whipsers planning our downfall.  

God damnit.  I want a signed book.

"A Clockwork Orange," Jason says.  I look over at him.  "Number four, A Clockwork Orange."

He's right.  There is an alarm clock and then something that I thought was a peach.  He's right though.  Now that I see it, I can't unsee it.  

"Do you know who wrote it?" I ask him.  I don't know why I asked, of course he knows who wrote it.  He's Jason.  

Somehow the dam breaks.  Jason is off and running.  I'm cheering him from the side.  I'm trying not to distract him but I may mention the stakes that these emojis now have.  We either go home winners or Team Evil sacrifices a bus full of babies. No pressure.  

Jason writes fast, the pen leaving deep indentations on the paper.  A part of the paper tears where he was writing to hard.  He doesn't slow down.  

  I don't know how but he is reading emoji speak like a teen girl breaking up with her boyfriend.  Title after title comes.  He pauses once to remember who wrote a book, remembers and starts to scratch the page again.  

He gets to Freddie Mecury.  

"Metamorphisis," he says.  The title of the book is Metamorphisis.  How the hell he got that out of Freddie and an Ant, I have no idea.  "Kafka. Kafka wrote that."

And then it is over.  

The judges don't announce the final score because I imagine it wasn't close and he doens't want to upset his evil overlords.  Jason and Jennifer, the Anyomous Nerds, go to the front to collect our prize.  There is applause but it's muted like these poeple are afraid to show favor to the underdogs in front of Team P.T.  I don't care, I'm going to get a book.  

On the table is the book "All The Light We Cannot See."  It's been on my list for a while.  But next to it, a little pushed back is another one.  A black cover, a woman on the front in a red dress  The YA novel Dumpling.  The kind of book that my daughter would love.  It's signed by the author Julie Murphy.  I barely think it over before I grab the book and run away before Team P.T. gets some literay thugs dressed in tweed jackets to rip it out of my hand.  I'm just kidding, I would destroy guys like that.  Jennifer can throw a punch. 

At home, I give the book to Vivi.  I show her where it's signed.  She jumps up and down, she twirls and falls over the dog.  She tears up a little bit.  Vivi tells me that she is going to take it to school to show all her friends.  After that, she wants to visit her writing teacher so she can show her very own author signed book.  

Sometimes being a hero means just hanging out with the right people.  I don't have a copy of a signed book myself.   Instead, I have a duaghter that thinks that Daddy and his friends are awesome.  That's a feather in my cap that says something way better about my qualifications than a dusty book.   


We Are Going To Be Late

8:55am.  We are going to be late. 

Out of bed.  Get dressed, go quickly, scream while I head downstairs.  Where are the kids?  Why aren't they answering me?  The dog decides that this is a perfect time to stick his nose in my butt.  I'm wearing yesterdays shorts, he appears to like my musk. 

At the bottom of the stairs, I see the children.  Two of them are on the couch.  Neither one is dressed.  The toddler plays with a Barbie at the breakfast table, dipping her hair into a bowl of cereal milk.  Cartoons are on, loud and obnoxious, an ear-splitting car wreck that has their undivided attention.

"What the hell!" I say.  "We are going to be late for school!"

"What school?" Wyatt says, my 10-year-old boy.  "We don't have school today." 

The kid is bright but clueless at the same time.  Last week we had to discuss what the term "Kafkaesque" meant.  He came across it while watching one of his science videos.  However, he doesn't seem to know his days of the week.  I'm hoping that he is a forgetful genius, a nutty professor that will one day invent flubber. 

"It's Tuesday!  Saturday?  We just had the weekend.  It's Tuesday!"

The kids don't move.  Ollie, the four-year-old at the table, has moved on from Barbie and is now just sticking his whole face into the cereal bowl.  He's trying to drink the milk like our cat. 

"Move!"  I give the command like a general, one that has slept late and is going to miss the offensive that starts in five minutes. 

The kids don't move.

"Move!"  I say again.  We need to have some time this evening so that I can fully discuss listening.  The cartoons on the TV switch to a commercial. 

Now the kids jump up.  They run upstairs, taking the time to push each other over by the third stair.  Someone crashes into a wall, a picture frame tumbles from it and the woman on the TV is telling me about ABC Mouse. 

In the kitchen, I grab the lunch boxes.  I start throwing pre-made snacks and chips in.  Two bologna sandwiches.  For some reason, I place the bread in a sandwich bag, zip it up and throw it in next to the juice boxes.  Then I take the bologna and put it in its own sandwich bag.  It is lost on me why I did this instead of just making the sandwich.  No time to think, we must react.  The clock says 9:05.  Shit.  We're already late.  The bus has come and gone. 

"Ollie!  Get down and get your shoes on," I tell my toddler.  He doesn't have to get dressed.  He can roll the whole day in pajamas.  He stays home with me, we can look like crap when we need to.  Today, apparently, we need to.  The older kids come down the stairs. 

"Why did you let me sleep in?" I ask them.  It's a fools question that is asked only to make myself feel better.  They aren't responsible for me getting up.  I'm responsible for them.  But this way I get to deflect my blame.  Let's call it payback for a 1000 nutshots over the years.  They can take a little bit of this blame for me. 

"We didn't know," Vivi says.  11 and she pleads ignorance of the law as an excuse, puts the blame back on me.  "Why didn't you get up?"

"Had a late night, had to work," I tell them.

"Dad, you don't work.  You stay home with us."

"I binge watched a show on Netflix," I say, giving the truthful answer. 

We hammer the kids on honesty, lecture about it often, rarely practice it ourselves.  Little white lies get called out constantly.  How come you and mommy sent us to bed early?  To have alone time (sex).  Where is the dog?  He went to the farm (he's dead).  Where do babies come from?  From alone time (unprotected sex).

  They are right, I am wrong and we are also late. 

Lunches packed, I throw them at the children's heads.  Backpacks get things stuffed in, jackets get put on, I grab the toddler.  Ollie screams as I yank him from his chair.  He was dipping his fingers into his milk and using that to paint some sort of picture on the table.  His masterpiece wasn't finished.  Don't care, got to get to school. 

In the car, everyone gets buckled up.  Hurry.  Stop fighting  Stop pushing.  Stop screaming.  One of the children throws something at one of the other children.  One of the boys fart.  They all laugh.  I pull out of the driveway like I'm the coach master of the insane wagon.  The laughter sounds maniacal, sharp and unhinged. 

School is less than three minutes away.  The morning radio lets me know about politics--someone said something stupid.  My toddler says that later today he is going to fart on his brother's pillow while they are at school.  The next election I decide that I'm going to vote for him rather than any candidate. 

9:20 and we pull up to school.  Vivi and Wyatt jump out, I unbuckle the toddler from the car seat and put him on the ground.  He's not wearing any shoes.  We run up to the front door and ring the bell.  The school stays locked during the day now, a defense against possible crazy people.  I look up to the security camera above the door and realize what I look like now.  My shirt's on backward.  I am a forgetful genius like my son. 

The school lets us in, double doors lead to the office. 

"Hi!" Donna says from behind her desk.  I refuse to look at my reflection in her glasses.  She is the friendly gatekeeper and I know what she is going to ask next.  She hands me a pen and a clipboard so that I can sign the children in.

"And why are we late this morning?" Donna asks. 

"Doctors appointment," I say hoping that she doesn't notice the no shoe wearing toddler and my backward shirt.  I also notice that it's inside out. 

"Dad..." Wyatt says. 

Shit.  He's calling me out.  Right here in front of Donna.  Donna used to like me.   I hate that my son is right.  Make a mistake, own up to it. 

"Dad.  Dad is the reason we are late," I tell the gatekeeper.

Donna makes a clucking noise behind her smile.  I hate that I'm being seen as a bumbling father.  I'm not.  Usually, I have my shit together.  Stupid Netflix. 

"Oh, we all have bad days sometimes," Donna says, letting me off the hook.  I kiss the kids, tell them to have a great day, give them hugs.

And notice that neither one of them has their backpacks.   


Sharks Inside Volcanos

Sharks can live inside volcanos.  It's true.  I read the paper online.  Everything posted online is true.  Scientists have found a shark living inside an underwater volcano.  This is it.  This is how the world ends.  Good.  

3 am and I can't sleep.  Too much is on my mind.  Fatherly stuff, stuff that makes you lay awake and plot revenge.  Justice.  The world needs more justice.  My wife, daughter and two sons are asleep.  The dog is heavy on my feet.  My eyes are closed but I can't get there, to dreamland.  Dad's got heavy dad things on his mind.  I'm not all jokes and good times.  Sometimes, when the kids are asleep and my wife is snoring, I'm wide awake.  

My daughter is a reader.  If she doesn't have a book in her hand, even for a two-minute drive to the grocery store, I wonder if she is sick.  She reads way above her grade level.  It's freaky and I have to read a lot of things with her so that we can talk about what she is seeing.  YA novels.  So many YA novels.  I could use them as stepping stones in the backyard, we have so many.  

Do you know what YA novels have in them?  Jackass love interests.  Jerks and peckerheads that treat the main female character like shit.  Oh, she's so mad at that boy.  He's so rude!  But ya know what, she loves him.  Yup, there it fucking is.  The main character will eventually love him.  Every fucking single time.  It's ok though, the main character can change him!  He's not really a bad guy, no really.  He just needs someone who can understand him.  If she is determined enough, her attention will teach him that being shitty to her is a bad thing.  Then he will love her.  What the Jesus fuck.  Seriously.  I have to give her a lecture every day to let her know that if a boy is a dick, he will always be a dick.  The real world doesn't work that way.  If the demon vampire goes to your school, he's not going to be all shiny and love you oh so much Bella!  No, he's going to want to suck your blood.  I've lectured my niece on this as well.  

I talked to my wife tonight.  The "me too" conversation that is going around twitter and the internet.  I've been with my wife since she was 18.  22 years of being by her side.  When I asked her, she said "Well, nothing physical, but in college...."  Jesus fucking Christ.  How did I not know about this, about what she has to go through?  The demeaning comments.  The "because you're a girl," bosses have said to her over the years.  

I demanded names.  I want to make a list.  How many fists of justice can I dole out throughout the day?  Can I track someone down from 20 years ago?  I bet I can.  Who fucking catcalls?  Seriously?  I don't even need a name.  I can just follow behind my wife when she walks downtown.  I'll take notes.  Give her a kiss on the cheek when I hear it, then go do the justice thing.  I tell my wife this.  

"You know you can tell me anything, right?" I say. 
"Of course," she says and rolls her eyes.  
"Look, I'm a big guy.  And it's all yours.  Every stitch of it.  Yours.  Just say the word and things can happen.  That's all I'm saying."  
She snorts at my bravado but it's all I got.  It's the only thing I know how to do.  

I'm an ex-football player.  Sure, not in shape anymore but a lot of that strength remains.  It's all right here.  And, not to be humble here, I can take a punch.  Never, not once in my life, have I felt attacked or demeaned like my wife has felt.  I have never felt belittled.  It's rare that I was even challenged.  I suppose as kids but then my brother and I would go and have us a good old-fashioned fistfight.  Good times.  I miss my brother.  He's got a wife and daughter, we should talk more often.  

And as I lie here, wide fucking awake, thinking about my wife and daughter, I can't forget about my sons.  Two of them.  10 and 4.  Little guys.  And what makes me worry, what puts that ball of tension in my chest, is that I know exactly what they will have to go through.  

Competition.  Day in and day out competition.  Can't be helped, it will always be there.  Subtle things, peer pressure things.  Things that will be in their own heads.  Little boys are constantly one-upping each other.  I can go faster, I can hit harder, I can jump further.  I dare you  I double dog dare you.  I'm tougher than you are.  It doesn't stop when you become an adult.  For a while there, in your twenties, it gets worse.  I have no idea why.  Then your own thoughts come in.  Am I good enough, am I tough enough? 

Don't cry.  Only the weak cry.  Stay level-headed in a crisis.  Don't panic.  Sissies panic.  Are you a sissy?  Control your emotions, can't let them get out of control.  Don't disappoint dad.  Be like dad.  But what if I'm not as tough as dad?  What if dad is cross with me, have I failed dad?  That's the rub, that's the one that is the hardest to deal with.  Dad always loves you, without fail or condition.  You are always tough enough for dad.  But in your own head, as a young boy, you never think so.  I didn't.  I think being 10 is exhausting.  

So I can't sleep.  I can't sleep because I know that there is not a whole lot I can do.  It's a thought that is defeating.  My one job, my one real job, is to shield them all from the shit in the world.  To right the wrongs, to protect them from those things out in the shitty world.  To confront those thoughts that they might have.  To get into their heads to make sure that it doesn't lead them down the wrong path, make them jaded and lie awake at night.  My job is to take on the world.  

And I can't. As big as I am, as strong as I am, as tough as I am--it's not enough.   

I can teach.  I can read the YA books with my daughter.  I can reassure my sons that dad always has their back.  I can teach all of them that confidence is your shield and that Dad is never disappointed in you.  And I can hug my wife, keep things away.  Sometimes.  Not all the time.  Because the bottom line truth is that Dad can't fight all their battles for them.  My wife knows this.  She's the beacon of strength that I hope my children see.  I want to fight all their battles for them.  I can't.  They have to.  I can be in their corner, I can cheer them on.  But I can't fight them.  Now I feel powerless, and perhaps for the first time, I can really feel like they all do sometimes.  

That's why you find yourself in the middle of the night worried about all of them.  A father's worry, deep and gnawing.  

This is how you find yourself rooting for the sharks in the volcanos.