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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

No Quarter Given - A Father's Tale

                                               Allison                                                 Logan

Meet my children. May I introduce Allison and Logan. They are identical twins, though you wouldn't know it by holding a conversation with either of them. And these days, their looks are totally disparate. There was a time when the girls looked quite similar, causing my brother-in-law to name them "You" and "You". That time has passed.

I have been blessed, however, with two kids with phenomenal senses of humor. I have often thanked my lucky stars that I was not saddled with children who were dolts. I can think of no worse life than to come up with a world-class pun, or a professional-grade put-down only to look onto a face filled with incomprehension and the paranoiac fear of having to listen to me explain basic humor to them  for the 8769th time. That would be my worst hell - aside from the hell that provides no icy draught beer or indoor plumbing.

On the flipside, however - and herein lies the rub - my children have a deadly quick wit and a ruthless hair trigger about them that is hard-wired in them from birth. I would like to think that my own sense of humor is one of pastoral timelessness - one of gentle sarcasm and an easy irony, meant to bring a joyful smile to the listener or reader. That said, my daughters are brutal.

I told Allison last night that my most-excellent spinning, battery-powered toothbrush had died. "Why don't you get another one?" she asked. "I thought I did," I answered, not thinking. Her head turned to me, looking up from her phone, where there was obviously a much-more important conversation taking place. "What do you mean?" she asked. "Well," I said, growing just a touch uncomfortable, having an inkling on what was to come. "The package I picked from the shelf looked like the same package as the battery-powered toothbrush, but it wasn't - it was a cleverly packaged manual jobbie..." She laid down her phone and started laughing. At me. "Wait," she began. "How do you not know that the toothbrush is manual?" I shrugged; more laughter. "I don't know," I said. Apparently, this was funny. "Oh, and eff you," I replied, haughtily. It was all I could think of and "Fuck you" would have simply been further proof that I am a poor father. The girl shook her head, gathered her phone up and bounded off toward her bedroom, still laughing at my inability to distinguish powered toothbrushes from manual. I felt degraded. Maybe I was a dumbass - I sure felt like one.

Granted, I should have taken better pains to ascertain the poweredliness of my toothbrush, but the entire exchange got me thinking - this girl is quick to pounce. Her sister is equally eager to throw kindling on the fire - when the girls were still tiny little guttersnipes, I had bought a fish to put in their uncle's aquarium to make sure the water was safe for fish-habitation. "What should we name the fish, Daddy," Logan asked. "What?" I asked, my mind as always on the driving task at hand. "What do you mean?" "The fish has to have a name..." Allie said nothing, apparently planning her strategy on making her father feel stupid ten years later over his toothbrush selection. "Can we name him 'Ringo'?" Logan asked, already a fan of the Fabs. "Sweetie, the fish probably won't live to see the morrow," I said. "He's a dead-fish walking. Name it whatever you like..." Without hesitation, she replied, "Then maybe we should name him 'John'..." I beamed with pride at my pre-teen's grasp of irony. The fish, "John" lived and was a household staple for many months, until the piranha were introduced into the environment and cleaned out the tank of all other living inhabitants. Vicious creatures, the piranha are not to be trusted around other domestic fish. Another helpful aquarium tip.

But this is not why I am writing today.

I believe that there are some traits that are better to pass on to generations of offspring and others best left to the genetic garbage pile. A vicious temper, coupled with uncontrollable jealousy and questionable self-esteem is better left to the DNA carrion - devoured  by DNA rats and crows and disseminated through the land in small, harmless piles of  gene-pool feces, neither toxic nor relevant. Other traits, such as dashing good looks, sparkling white teeth, an ear for pitch or an eye for hitting a curve ball should be enhanced, polished and placed proudly on the genetic mantle. The ability to tap-dance, work an abacus and follow sleight-of-hand, such as three-card monte is only slightly less valued. After much diligent research in my lab, I came up with the following lists.

Here are some of the least-desirable genetic traits to pass on to your children:

- Paste-Eating. This, topped only by booger-eating, is one of the classic red-flags on the radar of day-care center staffs and kindergarten teachers alike. Youngsters prone to paste eating are twice as likely to commit arson using sticks, fine kindling and a bow-drill. They are also more prone to lactose intolerance and a dislike for dillweed. These and other factors exacerbated by paste-eating, such as pigeon-toe, raccoon-hands and cauliflower ear make for a long, difficult life indeed. Better to never introduce Elmer's product into the home environment and leave this potential landmine to the professionals in the education field.

- Cowlicks. An unmanageable mane can cause a lifelong dependence on hair care products such as gel, hairspray and mousse, blow-dryers, curling irons and straightening tools. This will inevitably result in plumbing nightmares and quarrels with loved ones over Roto-Rooter bills. If your baby has cowlicks, maintain the military "high and tight" hairstyle throughout childhood and tell them how good they look with this style. It's called "positive reinforcement" and can even be perceived as genuine affection.

- A fondness for gambling, boozing and hookers. Just saying.

Here are a few traits you should feel free to pass on to future generations:

- Yodeling. This is a talent that is too-seldom displayed in today's auto-tune world. There is nothing wrong with a good yodeler, and if my instincts are sound, there will be a great upswing in the yodeling world very soon and the best yodelers will be justly rewarded. Be prepared.

- A way with a wrench. A good mechanic is admired by those who have no such aptitude and can save many others who have machinery in need of repair. This can sometimes be parlayed into a good living with sound benefits. I would say the same about computer technicians, but I do not think that the computer will ever really catch on with the everyday Joe.

- Rhyming. If a child can rhyme easily, please encourage this talent. It may lead to writing dirty limericks or a series of bawdy sea-shanties that will live forever in the world of the maritime. It may never make your offspring a dime, but if he or she can be known as the composer of the next "Barnacle Bill, the Sailor", the accolades will span the ages.

That said, if your children get even a little bit of your talent for strumming an instrument, singing a song, making with the yuks, painting a landscape, shooting a basket, catching a football or solving a math problem quicker than his classmates, consider it a blessing. Encourage their talent, wherever it may lie - it may not make a bit of difference in their life as an accountant, entrepreneur or salesman, but they will be richer, more rounded human beings for it. Even if they have a vicious, sarcastic sense of humor, simply smile and say "well-played, young lady..." Then ground them for making fun of you. It will even out.

"You" and "You"

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