This tale starts where most of my tales do…
I’m standing at the clubhouse bar, doing my best to defuse two potentially explosive situations. All I wanted was a cold beer for me and a soft drink for my son. We were making the turn at our favorite golf course on a glorious fall day. We are both being punished by said golf course, and yet, we are both happy – because it’s golf.
Fuse #1 – As my son and I walk up to the bar, the heartbreakingly young, (compared to me) wholesomely pretty, and tragically confused bartender has just lit up like a neon sign at a New Orleans strip joint. She has by-passed all the other patrons to serve your storyteller. I have experience with this, I know exactly what’s going on – been dealing with it most of my adult life.
I have great golf clothes, the pieces coordinate and complement each other… and I iron them before I play. Chicks dig that – especially those late twenty-something chicks. As these young ladies approach marrying age, seeing a man with a well starched crease on his pants is almost the same thing as seeing one carrying a diaper bag. It screams domestication, attention to detail, and a well-managed financial portfolio. Our bartender just realized that she’s not looking at a guy, or a dude, she’s looking at a man.
I could have sworn I heard her softly say to one of the waitresses as she looked our way, “Please don’t let him be married…” Poor kid. Of course I am…all the good ones are. We’ll get back to our bartender…
Fuse # 2
“Keep the change”, I say as my barkeep and I settle the official part of this complex transaction. Playing coy, she pretends not to notice my generosity and shifts her stare from me to the direction of my son and smiles sweetly at him as she slowly pulls a lock of her mahogany hair behind her ear. I call this this “hormone dancing”. As her little dance is ending, a friend of a friend catches me as my son and I turn to the door.
“Large Man, how you doin’?” extending a hand to me. “Hey there, Little Large Man,” directed at my son, “Playing a round with your dad today?”
“Hi, Rick. How are you? How you hittin’ em today?” I replied with a little restraint, and the assumption he was playing.
Rick is an okay guy – as far as I know, he doesn’t rob elderly people or molest farm animals. I would describe him as a person who takes a lot of vitamin I. Most people will ask, “How you doin’” because they want to know how you’re doing. Rick asks you so he can tell you how he’s doing. His question isn’t really a question, it’s just rhetorical means to move you into a discussion about his latest situation. Quite often, as you start to reply to his segue, he’ll whip out his phone and check his texts or Instagram until you finish speaking. Your human value can feel diminished in the presence of Rick and his smart phone.
Rick replies, “Are you kidding, dude? I don’t get to play golf anymore. I have a 6 month old and a 20 month old, my wife wants me to spend time with them when I’m not working. I just snuck up here for a beer; she sent me out with a grocery list”, then he snickers, “and I just wound up here.” He shrugs his shoulders, tilts his head to the right, and throws his hands to each side and winks at me.
I just look at him, and start edging my way to the door.
“Those kids never stop crying, dude,” he continued. I stopped walking. “And I’m changing diapers day and night; I didn’t sign up for this shit. I’m a man. I’m not a nanny. I see your pictures on Facebook, man, you’re playing golf every week. Makes me jealous, man. When you’re not playing golf, you get to travel all over the country – not changing diapers! You are living a man’s life, I don’t know what I’m doing. My wife doesn’t get it, dude. I need some freedom.”
I don’t know why I said what I said next, or why I engaged. I knew that any wisdom I had to offer would be wasted on this child, this 28 year old boy. I should have kept my mouth shut and walked out the door with my translucent Solo cup full of that beautiful amber colored Oktoberfest. I should have taken my beer, my son, my sharply creased golf shorts with coordinating pullover, the admiration of the young and pretty bartender, and walked out the door. I should have, but I didn’t.
“What does your wife do? Isn’t she a teacher?” I asked.
“Yeah. Right? I know where you’re going with this. She gets her summers off! She’s like part time, and she gets home at least an hour before I do, but she wants me to pick them up from day care two days a week so she can have, “…just an hour” for herself.”
He held up those finger quote thingys as he said “just an hour”. I only hold up finger quote thingys when I’m making fun of people.
I said, “You’re kidding. Do you have to drop them off in the morning too?”
“No” he replied. “She drops them off, it’s sorta on her way to school.”
“I’ve never met your wife, but jeez dude, she sounds really selfish. She’s asking you to handle two tenths of the day care transportation responsibility for your kids? They are your kids, right?” I asked these questions, calmly, with just a hint of contemptuous sarcasm.
He kind of rocked his head back, looked at me incredulously “Yeah, dude, they’re my kids, of course they’re my kids”.
Fuse #2 reaches its end…
I stepped a little closer to him, and quietly, and only verbally, got him up against the ropes, and started working the body…with kindness.
“Then you should get yourself home and take care of them, little brother, before you do something you’ll regret. You get jealous of me because of golf pictures on Facebook? Dude, you’re missing it. I get jealous of your pictures! Your kids are beautiful.”
He starts to shrink a little, as I continue. “You’re a man, not a nanny? That’s not how it works – you are a nanny. We’re all “nannies” (I did the finger quotes) when they’re that age.”
Now I’m metaphorically working the head and the body – peppering his soul, blow after blow with punches of love and wisdom and understanding. He’s trying to reach for his phone but the barrage of life lessons has him an emotional straight jacket.
I continue, “You’re gonna regret these feelings, dude. I would give anything for one more day with my kids when they were your kid’s age. You can golf for the rest of your life, dude, you have like ten more years with your kids in your complete care and protection. You don’t realize how fast this passes. Do you have any idea how precious and sacred it is to have these little…beings, look at you with that unconditional love, looking at you like you have all the answers. You’re a man? Really? You’re not acting like one. Get your ass outa here, get your groceries and go home and read your kids that book with the crickets in it, or Goodnight Moon.”
The whole time I’m talking, he refuses eye contact, he shakes his head, or he rolls his eyes or looks up at the ceiling. His posture becomes defensive, disengaged, as I finish my completely inappropriate and unsolicited sermon, he turns his back on me and walks out the door.
Wisdom most likely wasted; time poorly spent.
I should have shared some of the frustration I felt when I first became a father, because I do remember those days being difficult. But I don’t ever remember feeling like I was being denied anything or being cheated. It was the price of admission for the privilege of being a dad. Maybe I understood that because I started a family when I was much older than this kid (although, he’s 28 – technically NOT a kid).
For about 8 years, right up until my first child was born, I played golf just about every weekend. After the kids came, I played just about every Arbor Day. But I don’t remember missing anything – maybe I felt that way at the time, but that’s not what I remember.
This is what I know: Real men change diapers. Real men take their kids to day care. Real husbands give their wives a little more than 2 hours per week for a little down time. I’m not saying I am, or have been the perfect dad or husband, in fact, I know I sucked at it for a long, long, time.
But that’s not what I remember either.
I remember, donut day. Donut day meant throwing my kids in the car on Sunday morning, sometimes before mom even woke up, grabbing donuts and chocolate milk and going for a drive in the country. Or, if I needed a little golf fix, I took the kids to the driving range down the street. They shared a little set of clubs we bought for them, and they had a blast. I don’t know if they loved hitting golf balls, they just loved the time with me. I remember petting zoos and pumpkin patches, and Disney movies, and I remember other men, my friends, doing these things too.
Those memories are the trophies of a privileged and manly life.
I wish I had conveyed that a little better to this misguided kid. (28, REALLY isn’t a kid)
So anyway, Vitamin I walks away, I walk to the door, my son looks at me inquisitively – he didn’t hear my lecture (he knows what they sound like though) and asks if we’re “…gonna play or socialize all day? Who was that guy anyway?” “Just a friend…of a friend.”
“Okay. I’m gonna kick your butt on this back nine.” He taunted with his squeaky, changing, 13 year old voice. He’s becoming a man – God help me.
I’m starting to settle down as we step outside, just then, my bartender comes racing out, “Mr. Large Man, you forgot your change!”
Really. The dance continues, it’s very sweet, but a little sad too. I’m old enough to be her … umm… cousin. “I told you to keep the change, sweetie” I say, with empathy in my voice. Oh boy, this is getting awkward.
I start thinking of how I’m going to delicately tell her that I’m happily married, and most of the time my wife is too, so my well pressed outfits simply can’t be a permanent part of her future…but I’m really flattered and all. As I gather those gallant thoughts and organize the words I’ll use to let her down easy, I noticed she hasn’t taken her eyes off my son, even as she handed me the change that I would hand right back. She smiled at him, and did the hair behind the ear thing again. My son…
…my 13-year old SON.
That’s where she was staring, and who she was smiling at, and shifting her hair for.
Here’s what I don’t get:
He was wearing British khaki colored pants and a grey hooded sweatshirt…and an orange hat. NOTHING on the same color palette, no texture match, no consideration of whether or not the outfit even matched his golf bag. Furthermore, NOTHING IRONED! He looked like he slept in his clothes; in fact, he probably did. That little, non-fashion conscious snake, stealing the heart of the woman who I imagined had a crush on me. And right in front of my face.
Maybe there’s a lot that I don’t get.
Now I have to have another version of that “let her down easy” conversation. Yes he’s six foot three, sure he’s handsome (he looks just like me) but he’s 13…no financial portfolio, doesn’t shave, and he couldn’t iron a pair of socks. This is a crazy reality shift: I’m not too old and too married for her, she’s too old, and too misguided for him.
Didn’t see that one coming…
Thanks for reading.