I love the Johnny Cash song, “A Boy Named Sue”. You can sing it; it tells a story; and it’s funny as @#$%. It’s about a boy who was abandoned by his father, leaving him with nothing but the name “Sue”. This made for a hard life for young Sue, who had to learn to look after himself on account of his name. Sue swears that when he finds his father, he’ll kill him. Hilarious, right?
When Sue sees the “low down snake” playing stud in a saloon, he introduces himself and punches Dad between the eyes. Down goes Dad but comes up with a knife and takes off part of Sue’s ear. Then commences a fight that sends them crashing through the wall out into “the mud and the blood and the beer”. In the end, Sue draws his gun first and Dad smiles. He tells Sue he knew he wouldn’t be around to raise Sue right, so he gave him a name which would kill him or made him stronger. Tearful reconciliation follows.
While Sue’s father’s methods were flawed, he wanted Sue to be able to take care of himself when he wasn’t around. All dads hope to teach our kids that – even though we may go about it in questionable ways, like my Freedom 16 Plan. My three boys are alreadymeasuring my throne with their eyes but, as I explained to one when we were playing FourSquare, I’ll always be the king. If they want to rule the roost, they better find their own. Because I love them, I have instituted the F16P: I raise them to be able to look after themselves should they, after 16, feel they cannot handle my kingly ways.
I WANT them to stick around longer than that (well, until their schooling is done) but, whenever they strike out on their own, it’ll be comforting to know that they, like Sue, can handle themselves. My lessons may be more about cooking, driving a car and succeeding in a job interview but there’ll be some back-alley fighting moves in there too.
We’re big Harry Potter fans in our house – the books, not the lousy movies. I have read them, my wife has read them and our oldest has reread them so many time I found myself involved in a ridiculous argument. It went something like: “You are rereading Harry Potter AGAIN?” “So? I want to read Harry Potter.” “This is ridiculous. You have to read something else. No more Potter!” “You can’t stop me from reading Harry Potter!” “I… You’re right. Forget it.” And I slunk the hell out of there – another parenting fiasco.
We love to read our kids the books. I read the first one to our middle son before my wife took the project over (even though my character voices are much superior). I was reminded how awesome the headmaster, Dumbledore, is. Harry, as an orphan, is looking for replacement parents throughout the books to help him grow into the man (wizard) he needs to be. Though his mother is central to his story (she sacrificed herself to allow him to live), Harry is searching primarily for a Father figure. By far the most important of these is Dumbledore.
Initially, I was amazed by Dumbledore’s willingness to permit Harry to go on these risky adventures without interfering. This is contrary to current hyper-involved bubble-wrapped parenting. Dumbledore knows Harry must undergo risks to BECOME the hero. He has to try and fail. Dumbledore doesn’t do Harry’s homework for him, he doesn’t micromanage or call from the sidelines about how to do things (something I am prone to).
Also, when Harry asks Dumbledore to tell him the truth, he gives a great answer:
“I shall answer your questions unless I have a very good reason not to… I shall not, of course, lie.”
He gives Harry what Harry can reasonably handle but doesn’t try and “protect” Harry from the world.
Lastly, Dumbledore regularly demonstrates the quality which makes all kids love him: a childlike curiosity and humour about life. At the end of the book, he tries one of Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans – even though he had a bad experience in his youth with a vomit-flavoured one. So, like Dumbledore, I try to give my kids permission to fail. Learning to deal with failure and to keep trying those beans (even though the next one might taste like earwax) is a very important lesson. A version of this article appears in the August/September issues of Village Living Magazine: West Village and Village Living Magazine: Mt. Pleasant.
New Pop Culture: You Complete Me now up and in June/July issue of Village Living Magazine (West Village and Mount Pleasant editions). Watch out, this one is about FEELINGS.
“Likely everyone is familiar with the line “You complete me” that Jerry (Tom Cruise) utters to Dorothy (Renee Zellweger) in front of a roomful of hostile divorcees. Women swoon over that line. But the movie never demonstrates that she does complete him. It’s a cheat. So who should McGuire have declared his love to? Dorothy’s son, Ray.”
I hate Jerry McGuire. It is a terrible romantic comedy. So is Four Weddings and A Funeral.
This guy is slagging both 4W&F AND Jerry McGuire? Who does he think he is? While 4W&F is a funny movie, it is a terrible romantic comedy because the lead, Charles, (Hugh Grant) declares his love to the wrong character, Carrie (Andie McDowell). Carrie is beautiful but she and Charles have zero chemistry. Also, he has the far superior Fiona (Kristen Scott Thomas) panting for him. Me? I’d take the smart, sexy and accomplished woman over the personality-free trophy wife. But I digress. Or do I? Jerry McGuire has the same problem – he declares his love to the wrong person.
Likely everyone is familiar with the line “You complete me” that Jerry (Tom Cruise) utters to Dorothy (Renee Zellweger) in front of a roomful of hostile divorcees. Women swoon over that line. But the movie never demonstrates that she does complete him. It’s a cheat. So who should McGuire have declared his love to? Dorothy’s son, Ray.
A grown man declaring his love for a boy is a potential minefield. It sure doesn’t fit the classic romantic comedy model but it’s Ray who completes Jerry. Wait! You can’t have a movie where a man finds meaning in his father figure role! Not outside of a good relationship to that boy’s mother! Oh, wait, you can – it’s called About A Boy, a better Hugh Grant comedy that explores how being a “father” helps a man find himself.
It seems we have a long way to go for it to be OK for a man to show how he feels. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not talking about long teary discussions about your emotions. Boring. But long ago, my dad (a classic tough guy) showed me that being a real man means doing what’s right and not worrying about what society thinks. A real man can and should tell his own sons (and daughters) publicly that he loves them – that they “complete” him. So, hug it out, bros.
Pop Culture has been presenting surprising, though positive, images of Fathers in Pop Culture – there are many ways to be good dads. Now, however, it is time to showcase some bad dadding.
Exhibit A in the Pop Culture Gallery of Bad Dads: Bryan Ferry of Roxy Music. Last year, the 66 year old Mr. Ferry married the 24 year old ex-girlfriend of one of his sons. As my youngest used to say, “Ick, is yuck”. For all I know, Ferry pere et fils dash about the Riviera in a motorboat wearing matching monogrammed Speedos and toasting each other with Prosecco. But this poaching smacks of poisonous levels of male vanity. Ferry always struck me as a guy who spent a lot of time admiring himself in the mirror. I was raised in a home where, if you dawdled over your food, my dad would try to eat your dinner and you had to arm wrestle him if you wanted the extra cherry Danish. So, I’m OK with cross-generational rivalry – within limits. When I finally beat my Dad for the Danish, he bore it with good grace and didn’t turn around and try and scoop my girlfriend in revenge.
Rule One of not being a Bad Dad: Don’t Sleep With, Date or Marry your children’s exes.
Who has to worry about this other than Eurotrash pop stars? Well, a woman I knew in university married her ex boyfriend’s father. “Dad, I’d like you to meet my girlfriend Electra”. “Well, hello there.”
Dads, if you want a young girlfriend, why not get out of your slippers and leave the house to look for one? Beyond this being a basic no-eating-your-kids’-leftovers rule, it is a metaphor: Are you putting your kids’ happiness ahead of your own selfishness? Are you a slave to vanity? Are you trying to hold onto your youth/potency at the cost of your kids?
“Winter Is Coming”: The Stark Family Motto
I’ve been watching Game of Thrones – and not just because of the omnipresent sex and violence. OK, they might have something to do with it. However, people like me really watch because of the gripping interpersonal dynamics. The various lead characters must figure out the right way to live in a world of chaos – this struggle is often informed by the expectations their fathers have of them. Everyone in this series has daddy issues.
Game of Thrones takes place during a war of succession involving a large cast of diverse protagonists. It shows a heartless disregard for its characters, killing them off with relish and regularity. The kings in question are generally deeply flawed and their children are the warped results. These offspring are quickly left to their own devices to sort out how to behave. This is generally a good thing, as their dads are a bunch of murderous conniving psychos. The one exceptional King Dad is Ned Stark and he is killed basically for being honourable.
But Ned Stark is a good dad because he models honour, self-reliance and responsibility. It might stem from his family motto which essentially means – “It’s going to get hard; everything is going to die; so, prepare accordingly”. It doesn’t always protect his children from harm. It does, however, aid the Starks in times of crisis to have a family code of honour guiding them on who they are. Other characters, like the dwarf Tyrion, reject their despicable father’s way of life and must forge a new identity on their own. Some believe fathers are unnecessary, but I’d argue having a good one sure helps, like a hidden dagger in your boot.
I hope to arm my kids with a strong family identity, one that helps them navigate the world when I can’t protect them. That means I must strive to be a better person myself. Sigh. I’m not very successful at that but it gives me something to aim for. Is it too much to ask to be called Sire in return?
|Does Everyone Hate Santa Claus These Days?
Whatever festival of light you celebrate (or don’t), no one can ignore Santa Claus or, as he known in England, Father Christmas. My question: Does everyone hate Santa Claus these days? Santa is an amalgam of pagan and Christian traditions – what the hip amongst us know as a Mash-Up- and there is apparently something for everyone to dislike. In the Netherlands he is accompanied by Black Peter who punishes bad kids by putting them in a sack. Christians find him too secular and secularists (and people of other faiths) find him too religious. And what’s with those elves’ working conditions? PETA has probably launched a complaint about the reindeer. He is too fat, nutritionists argue. Too commercial, a puppet of Coca Cola, others cry. Has anyone noticed that Santa is an anagram of SATAN?!?
Cut the dude some slack. He works his butt off in the far north under difficult conditions with only some elves for companionship all so that for one twenty four hour period he can deliver presents to children. “While I hear that some men’s magazines suggest lonely women wait for Santa wearing only their Christmas stockings to give him a little Christmas spirit, he really doesn’t get much for his troubles.” Why does he go through with it?
I dislike all the greed, commercialism and expectations that come with Christmas but lying around in my PJs watching my kids open their presents on Christmas morning makes the rest of the crap worth it. I have a good relationship with my wife and kids but there are lots of dads out there who don’t see their kids as much as they like or have the kind of relationship they want. For some of them it’s easier to just give up as they don’t seem to get much for their efforts. Our society promotes self-interest and juvenile reactions to adversity and lack of gratitude. Maybe the paternal selflessness of Santa can show another way. Here’s to all Fathers who work hard to provide for their children with the only reward being the happiness on their little faces.
Pop Culture also appears as a regular column in Village Living Magazine. A version of this article appears in this month’s issue and on their website at: http://villagelivingmagazine.ca/pop-culture-the-people-vs-father-christmas-aka-santa-claus/.
I am often asked: “What’s it like being a cutting edge father/stay at home dad/primary caregiver to three kids?” I tell dads who are confronting solo parenting, lead parenting or just “wife has gone to Vegas for the weekend”: Do it your own way. The glory of being a male caregiver is that, since there are not many role models, it’s open for us to make up what makes a good pop.
Look at Captain Von Trap in “The Sound of Music”. Remember how Maria, the problem nun, reacts with horror at how widowed Capt. Von Trap pipes in his children for inspection? Arrayed in sailor outfits and marching in time to his piping, they assemble in a disciplined row. We are expected to mirror Maria’s shock while also being amused at this rigid operation. However, as a father who has to get kids out the door for school five days a week, I admire the good Captain.
Cap had his stuff sorted. Cool, stern but fair. His kids were well-behaved, groomed, fed and actually responded to questions when addressed by an adult. And once they did as required I bet he left them alone to live their lives as he went about his – scoring hot rich Countesses and free-thinking nuns. Many parents are too involved in their kids’ inner lives – that’s why I respect cool Captain von Trap. Also, he can whip out a guitar and sing a love song at the drop of a hat.