Discover more from Sub/Verses
On Being There
The only thing my father (inadvertently) taught me
If you were a pre-teen/teenage boy in the 1980s, there was a better than 50/50 chance you watched the WWF. One of my earliest memories was of my mom buying Wrestlemania III for my birthday party so we could watch Hulk Hogan “fight” Andre the Giant in the Steel Cage match. We laid out all the cushions from our brown felt couch on the floor so we could drop elbows and the Hogan “big leg” on each other.
Then, in 1992, the chance came for me to watch it live. My mom said she would ask my dad to take me, likely because she assumed he would be more interested in it, and since my parents were divorced, she probably would have liked the night off.
I remember sitting on the stairs, surreptitiously listening to them in the kitchen, discussing it. She told him that it would be a good bonding experience for us. Instead, he told her, “I’ll give you the money for the tickets.”
I don’t think a 13-year-old should think too much about what it means to be a father, and if they do, it’s likely an ominous sign of how things are going in the father/son relationship. But here I was, sitting on the stairs of our 1,100 split-level house, wondering exactly that.
It was then that I realized what it means to be a father…and that I didn’t have one. He didn’t understand what the teenager on the stairs did. That it wasn’t about buying a WWF ticket, it was about the drive into Boston. It was about what a pain in the ass it would be to find parking. It was about paying for overpriced popcorn, overly enthusiastic middle-aged guys rooting for other middle-aged guys wearing oddly tight shorts, having to suffer from the B.O. from those same middle-aged guys, being half (or completely) deaf when you walked out of the show and your kid not remembering how he got into his bed the following day because he passed out the second you got to the car and you had to carry him upstairs and put him in bed.
He didn’t get it, and I never forgot it…and I never forgave him for it.
That may be a bit dramatic. It wasn’t that one thing I never forgave him for because how much can you miss the Picasso adorning your wall that was never there? You know it exists somewhere, someplace. Maybe you dreamt about it being on your wall at some point, but no matter how much you might have wanted it there, you eventually accepted it was a fleeting fantasy and got used to its absence.
So, what’s the point of this sob story? Only this…as a parent, there is no replacement for time.
The most poisonous lie society tries to foist upon young people today is the fallacy that “you can have it all.” Not only is this untrue, it’s what Jordan Peterson calls the “anti-truth.” It’s not just wrong; it is the exact opposite of the truth.
The truth is this: you get to have vanishingly little. Every moment you decide to do one thing, you reject every other possibility. Does that sound like “having it all?”
I didn’t think so.
So make time for your kids. And yes, quantity counts. In fact, it trumps “quality” by an astronomical exponent.
Some (many?) people live under the false impression that they don’t need to spend a large quantity of time with their kids because they spend “quality” time with them, as if this “quality” time is something that can expand like an inflatable mattress to take up the excess time-space which they didn’t fill because they were working, watching football, or going on a boys golfing trip.
It does not.
First, trying to make up the quantity with quality, as if they can be balanced against each other by Lady Justice’s scale, is a comforting thought but equally as laughable. What’s the equation? Every trip to Paris is worth ten trips walking around at the local Home Goods? Every Taylor Swift concert is worth seven visits to the local beach down the street? Every hour you spend at an all-inclusive Caribbean beach resort is worth eight domestic American hours?
Second, any time you spend with your kids is “quality” time if you let it be.
Here’s what your kids will remember…were you there, or weren’t you? Maybe by doing the everyday, ordinary things, they won’t be able to pick out the specifics in 30 years…but they will know you were there.
This may be an unpopular belief, but while specific memories make for great stories to share, it’s the feeling you get when you think about them that remains long past their tour on earth.
That is certainly true of my mom.
I mentioned before that my parents were divorced. For most of my childhood, it was just my mom and I, and we were poor. I grew up in Section 8 housing until both my grandparents passed away, and she could buy the house she grew up in at half-off because she only had to buy out my aunt’s share.
We went on some vacations. Primarily to Florida for school break because my paternal grandparents (great people) had a place down there, and they paid for us to go. Once things got better financially, we took other trips as well, but those weren’t the things that made the story of my childhood. They may have been the exclamation points within the story, but they weren’t the sentences. In the story of my childhood, my mom isn’t the protagonist because she took us to exotic places or because she spoiled me with gifts (because she couldn’t afford to buy me much). She’s there because she is in nearly everyone when I look back at my memories.
That’s what makes a parent.
I used to have a job that involved quite a bit of international travel. When I would tell people about the places I would go, the response would often be akin to, “That’s cool that you get to see the world for free.”
The truth was that I hated every second of it. I always wanted to be home and get back there as quickly as possible.
One time, I was in Delhi, India, and a bunch of people I was traveling with scheduled a trip to see the Taj Mahal, which is only about an hour away, the weekend after our meetings ended.
I turned it down to get home and be with my daughter.
What did I do with that extra day and a half with her? I couldn’t begin to tell you. Maybe we went to a county fair. Maybe we went to the mall. Maybe we just sat around and played with blocks. I haven’t the faintest idea. If I had gone to the Taj Mahal instead, I am sure I would still have all sorts of stories from that day I could share. Stories with a bunch of people who, in all due to respect, I don’t care about, and about a place that I can see every nook and cranny of on Google.
Is seeing it on Google images the same as having experienced it with my own eyes? Of course not. But neither is telling stories to my daughter about a place and time that means so much less to me than she does.
I’ve been to India many times since; I’ve still never been to the Taj and probably will never go…unless I go with her.
I don’t mean to make myself out like some martyr who immolated himself at the altar of parenthood. I’m not that good of a father. I’ve screwed up countless times in ways I am aware of and probably infinitely more times that I am unaware of. But I was there, and I tried.
I went to the ballet practice when I was the only father there. I go to her horseback riding lessons and am the only guy in the barn. I go on shopping trips, aimless walks around the neighborhood to hear the fifteenth story about the same teacher who annoys her every week, and play five games of Trouble with her in the morning because why not? I’m there, and she’s there. Why wouldn’t I? What better thing do I have to do?
I want to ensure she has that feeling I mentioned earlier when I am gone. But before then, hopefully.
You hear from every guy with a podcast about “productivity hacks,” and how to fit more stuff into your day. And that’s great. You should spend time improving yourself every day. Workout, read, and work on your business plan. But don’t let anyone tell you that spending the last hour of your day sitting on your couch, watching The Brady Bunch with your daughter, isn’t productive. If the point of being productive is to produce something, then produce that relationship…it’s simply producing something that is less tangible and can’t be measured with an ROI.
When I consider why the quantity of time is so important, it’s because you never know when that unforgettable memory will occur. You never know when that story you’ll tell on her wedding day will happen. And you never know what story she will use for your eulogy and will get everyone to laugh through their tears.
Remember that WHAT you do is much less important than who you do it with.
I forgave my father because how much can you blame someone for not understanding quantum physics? It wasn’t his fault that he couldn’t grasp the concept. Now, I pity him.
But I have him to thank for one thing…he taught me this lesson well…and I never forgot it.
P.S. - PUT YOUR FUCKING PHONE DOWN…