Free Advice: Don't Kill Santa Claus Yet
Being a dad is hard. This I know because I fail at it often. But despite the whiffs, I’m still, proudly, an above-average dad. How so? I learned from the best: my dad. Or maybe he’s the worst? Either way, I learned something, and I dish a slice of that knowledge here in a nice and tidy do’s and don’ts format. Maybe it’ll help you become the dad I always wanted.
Don’t Kill Santa Yet
Kids believe big, stupid lies, like the existence of a rabbit who hides eggs, a fairy who collects teeth, and a plump fourth-century Greek bishop who brings toys to well-behaved Christians. Sure, a freakishly miserable psychologist might say that parents who perpetuate these lies create trust issues with their children, but don’t be a douche like that guy. And don’t, when driving home from the mall during the holidays in your 1964 MG Midget with three elementary school kids crammed in the back gleefully yammering about what they’re getting from Santa, suddenly turn to them and bark, “YOU DON’T STILL BELIEVE IN THAT INFANTILE BULLSHIT, DO YOU?” Unpredictably executing a significant reveal like this will absolutely, definitely be traumatic for your son, who instead should’ve figured it out on his own, naturally and gradually. Apparently, childhood fantasies are part of a healthy process of questioning existing beliefs while seeking new evidence. (Bonus advice: It’s so not cool, either, to tell your son that while you’d totally be OK with him being gay, you’d definitely disown him if he ever finds God.)
Do Hang With Your Kid Sometimes
If you fancy a few beers at the local pub but you’re burdened with a rare weekend visit from your 10-year-old son, it’s probably best you don’t bring him along and then leave him in the car in a dark parking lot while you go drink with your mates. Sure, he’ll relish the bag of chips and the warm glass of Coke you’ll eventually bring to him—he might even consider it a rare treat if it’s not his birthday!—but here’s the problem: Doing so will likely cause him to develop self-esteem issues, convinced that everyone has better things to do than be with him. I mean, why would Dad want to hang out with a dorky, prepubescent kid whose only interests are Commodore 64s and Panini sticker albums when there’s more fun to be had collabbing on a buzz with buddies? (Another less serious downside: Your boy could end up spending his 20s trying to reconcile a confusing affection for warm Coke.) So instead, maybe grab a six-pack and some takeout, throw on the game or some sappy Disney movie (Splash has a surprisingly decent arc), and invite a few friends over. Your kid might even learn something about you as you pal around with your dudes.
But Don’t Hang Too Hard
Don’t buy your 18-year-old son a fake ID. Don’t bring him to the seediest part of San Francisco’s Mission District to an empty storefront and watch as he’s whisked off, alone, to an adjacent building to have his photo taken for a janky inkjet facsimile of a driver’s license. But if you do do this, don’t then take him out on long, boozy benders in North Beach until he’s passed-out drunk in a no-name bar without cab fare, which could be a serious problem if you’ve already headed home with some girl. And if you really must engage in that kind of unorthodox father-son bonding, instead take him to New Orleans, circa 1994, when the city didn’t seem to have any legit drinking laws. But while there, don’t try to fight the street scammer who took $40 from your son by winning a bet, somewhat fair and square, that he could “guess where you got your shoes.” Behavior like this, while hugely entertaining, could land you both in jail. And that’s just crap parenting. Not getting shitfaced and arrested with your son will help him understand how to operate within basic societal boundaries and also the value of a positive mentor.
Don’t Be a Jerk at Key Moments
When your son, perhaps against his better judgment, invites you to Thanksgiving to meet his future wife’s parents for the first time, don’t purposely humiliate him in front of his new family. If before dinner he pleads with you to play it straight, try being a grown-up and please, please resist the temptation to share those fruity details about when you showered with two hot Swedish women. Or that your second-ever knife fight was with a pimp in a bar in Singapore. And when your son glares at you from across the table with defeated indignation as you explain to his future mother-in-law that you left his mom for a woman half your age, and THAT’S how you ended up in America miles away from your family, don’t then smirk and shrug him off like it’s all a big joke. Despite your best intentions, doing all this does not help “ease the moment” by providing “some comic relief.” It just makes you look like a dick.
But Do Do You
When you get throat cancer and they cut you open from ear to Adam’s apple, remove part of your tongue, and then fire radiation at you every day for six weeks, stripping you of your sense of taste and your ability to swallow and making it intolerable to eat, which for a foodie is the most wretched torture anyone could administer, do try to be the same old dad you always were, warts and all, haters be damned. When you’re hunched over your fourth bowl of oatmeal of the day, forcing it down while trying not to burst into tears in front of your son, try to keep that banter coming. Say casually inappropriate stuff like, “If you see a cute old couple walking down the street arm in arm, it’s probably because one of them has cancer.” Or inform your attending nurse that you’ve lost so much weight that “when I stand sideways and stick out my tongue, I look like a fucking zipper.” That’ll help your son finally realize that someday, and maybe sooner than he’d hope, he’s going to miss that bad dad as much as he loves the good one.
About the Author
Though David Agrell has covered a wide range of topics for publications that include Popular Mechanics, MLSsoccer.com, and the East Bay Express, he seems to write a lot about his dad. In between therapy sessions, he edits for a major magazine publisher in New York City.