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New Fathers, Round III

Are you ruining your child’s chances at future employment by blogging about his poop? By becoming a father yourself, do you finally understand your own dad? A look at the challenges of contemporary paternity.

TMN: Let’s start out easy: Have you learned your lesson yet, or are you going to reproduce again?

Kevin Fanning: If the lesson is “How to make a baby,” then yes, I’ve proven to be an apt pupil. We’ve got another kid coming in a few months.

Matthew Baldwin: Dude, if you wanted to know how to make a baby, I could have pointed you to some websites and saved you a ton in daycare costs. You don’t need to learn everything by trial and error, you know.

Robert Birnbaum: I have learned my lesson. I would have as many children as I could for whom I could be financially responsible. Which is a big issue for a non-cubicle-inhabiting worker in the marginally remunerative areas of non-market-driven creativity.

Danny Gregory: I love my son, love being a dad, but, no, we have no plans to have another kid. Part of it could be a money/real estate issue; part of it is an age issue (Patti and I are both in our mid-forties); but mainly it’s just a sense that the way our family is right now feels right. Three’s company. Of course, once I get my trophy wife, I may change my tune.

Kevin Guilfoile: Any person familiar with the trickster gods of yore will see this question for what it is: an attempt by a devious and ironical universe to fool puny humans into answering it. Because no matter what thoughtful reply we give—either “Max is a wonderful kid and he’s given us all the happiness we could ask for,” or “We’d like to have one more: hopefully a girl, but a boy would be great, too”—well, that’s where triplets come from. Nice try, Loki.

Anthony Doerr: I think it’s the other way around: you don’t need time to learn the lesson, you need time to forget it. The vomiting (wife’s and newborn’s), the terror (mine), the sleeplessness (everyone’s). We had two babies, one with acid reflux and the other strapped to an apnea monitor the size of a VCR, a looming cross-country move, and a breast pump that never stopped chugging, yet somehow, a year and a half later, all we can remember from those first months is that our babies were small and cute. Evolution clearly figured out how to erase memories; otherwise no one would go for two.

KF: This is absolutely true. But I also think once they start talking and thinking on their own you start to feel the positives outweighing the negatives in a huge way. Hearing my son tell a neighbor, “Smell my feet,” on Halloween, totally unprompted, was a huge day for me as a dad.

Jonathan Bell: Very good question. The subject has come up, on several occasions, but usually in jest after when one or other of us has had a particularly trying child-related moment. Any situation, be it related to food, diapers, travel, or tantrums, can be given a delicious frisson of added fear by the phrase, “Now imagine doing that with two of them.” Ultimately, two is the plan, real estate, biology and salaries permitting.

MB: Our plan to have a single child remains unchanged. Although strikingly similar in many respects, infants differ from potato chips in that you can stop yourself at just one.

Don’t get me wrong: When I see newly minted babies I hear their insidious siren call, and find myself romanticizing the days when our child was so weak and uncoordinated that he was unable to kick me in the groin when picked up. (My wife insists that these incidences are accidental, but I suspect that our son is also intent on ensuring that he is an only child.) But I don’t find it too difficult to resist their infantly wiles.

If we did completely lose our minds and opt for another child, it would have to be some sort of trade-in deal, where we swap the toddler for a newer model. There’s no way we’d want both at the same time.

Frederic Bonn: I learned my lesson. Gone are the last-minute plans for a romantic weekend, gone are the nights out until 6 a.m. (I did it once, and giving a bottle after a 40-minute sleep with a hangover is not a pleasurable experience), gone are the after-work drinks-turn-into-dinner-turn-into-bars-turn-into-6 a.m., gone are the last-minute movie plans.

Wait a minute, have I learned my lesson? We’re having another boy, due something like now (he will probably be born when this article is published), because after all, there is nothing better than having him ride my back holding on real strong on the way to go to bed.

TMN: We’ve talked before about how you change when your child is born—the stock, though apparently true, cliché that suddenly the world’s no longer all about you, that you’re responsible for a whole lot more. Is this feeling still there once the kid starts walking? Have you gone back to your old selfish ways? (Do you want to?)

AD: Twins walking equals more work, more destruction, more Band-Aids, more responsibility. Less all-about-me time. At night, after all your dislocated possessions are put back, repaired, or thrown away, in the 12 seconds before you pass out from exhaustion, you look back at the inert-baby days wistfully and wonder what you did with all your all-about-me time.

DG: Clubbing till dawn. Sleeping through brunch. NC-17. Swearing. Smoking. Plotting the move to Tahiti. It’s been 11 years and four months of deprivation. My wife lets me get away with a lot less than I used to and my son loves to reprimand and report me for any infractions. I’m still selfish. I’m just sneakier. But I do come straight home from work every night.

But beyond mere self-indulgence, my sense of responsibility has been transformed by the sense that I am part of building a family for the long term. I wake up at 4 a.m. wondering about my IRA. I hate George Bush most for what he’s doing to the world Jack will grow up in. I used to assume I wouldn’t live to a particularly ripe old age. Now I feel like I have to.

Becoming acquainted with the floor gives you a whole new perspective on your living space, its dust traps, sharp edges, and lobster-pot-style furniture traps.

RB: I don’t know that I consciously felt any greater responsibility with my son’s birth—but there was a miasma of cliché and conventional wisdom that surrounds parenthood that I approached with great skepticism. I did grow fond of the great Cuban Jose Marti’s phrase, “I am the son of my son.” But the only truism that I accepted and that held true was that your (my) world changed(s). I take it on board that my high selfishness quotient remained constant—though materially I was and am no longer interested in expensive Italian suits and good English shoes. One thing that strikes me as profoundly true is that there are things I would and do do for my son that I haven’t done for other people, including his mother. This leads me through some frail reasoning to conclude that somehow I’m a better person. This is a comfortable myth that I think reasonably attaches to parenthood, though I have seen people justify all sorts of questionable and reprehensible behavior on their family responsibilities.

JB: At the start, there was a little bit of resentment about how much time he took up (i.e.: all of it), yet this was almost immediately followed by the realization that we had no idea what we actually did with all that time before he arrived. Or what we talked about. So yes, priorities do shift, but so does your spatial and temporal understanding. If anything, I’ve become far more flexible about silly real-world things like deadlines. These days, things just…slip.

MB: I suspect that I would be reverting to my old selfish ways if I had even the slightest recollection of what they were. These days, when I get an odd spare moment, I find myself thinking “Hmm…what did I use to do with these?”

Parenthood is like one of those post-apocalyptic novels, where the people have been reduced to near savagery and have only vague, highly mythologized memories of that glorious epoche before fire fell from the heavens.

FB: I always thought that there were two types of parents: the one that change their lifestyle completely around their kid—they no longer go out, they only talk about the last miracle their adorable baby accomplished—and the other kind that keep having their normal life, where yes, they love their kid, but that shouldn’t get in the way of a couple of mojitos after work or making sure these ugly toys don’t stay in the middle of the living room next to the designer couch (after all, your sense of style shouldn’t go away just because you procreated).

I considered myself being part of the latter group. But I lately realized that it is more complicated than you think; it is a little sneaky, and things that you would never have imagined doing become normal, without you even realizing it. I think your brain is just shifting to another place. You spend your Saturday at IKEA rather than going to see a show, and you actually enjoy it. Or, as a friend of mine said, “It hit me that my life was no longer the same when I realized our car was stuffed with two car seats with terrible motifs and a sunscreen in the shape of a cat’s head on the back windows, things I would not even have thought of for my worst enemy.” (Note to baby-accessories designers: why does every piece of accessory for kids have to look so bad?)

You should see my apartment now. There are all different types of cars aligned in my kitchen, and I like it.

KG: Considering how little I miss it, maybe I have to face the fact that my old life wasn’t all that interesting. No question, it’s weird sometimes when you realize that you can’t do a lot of the stuff you used to take for granted—go to a movie or out to dinner or meet a friend for a drink—at least not with a day or two of planning. I consider it compelling evidence of intelligent design that Netflix was conceived prior to our baby.

FB: Oh yes, Netflix: the true gift for the “Nope, we ain’t goin’ out tonight, again” parents. That’s probably the first thing I checked when moving to the U.K., because just going out to see a movie in London is like taking your entire family to Daniel for dinner, wines included.

KG: It would probably be difficult to even count the ways in which your life changes, ways you could never anticipate. I wore Timberland boots almost every day for 15 years, but boots are strictly for shoveling snow now. All the time I spend on the floor makes them incredibly impractical.

JB: Yes, becoming acquainted with the floor gives you a whole new perspective on your living space, its dust traps, sharp edges, and lobster-pot-style furniture traps.

AD: I never anticipated that my “free time” would consist of taking a shower.

KF: Parenting just makes you better at time management. I’m busier, but in a lot of ways I’m also more productive. I can’t think of anything huge missing from my life at this point.

TMN: We’ve asked this before, but as you watch your child age and develop—and surely you play a hand in how he or she forms and interacts with the world—what sort of mistakes have you made so far? What do you think you’ve done well?

KF: Just the usual stuff, not always being quite as patient as I’d like to be, swearing or using phrases in front of my son that I’m not too keen for him to pick up on. But everyone has days like that, it’s not the end of the world.

As far as what we’ve done well, we’ve always done everything we can to facilitate our son’s curiosity, to the point of over-explaining the answer to just about every question he asks. It’s fun now, having a two-year-old who knows the difference between waxing and waning moons, but I’ll probably regret it when he’s a teenager using the Socratic method to extend his curfew.

FB: To be honest, I have no fucking idea how I’m doing. So far, my son doesn’t look traumatized. In 20 years from now? That’s a different story.

I was talking earlier about the cars aligned in the kitchen, but this is not the only example of “alignment” we get these days from our son, only a part of a much bigger scheme that is starting to frighten us a bit: Leonard is way too organized. What about all the pairs of shoes that are suddenly all aligned at the bottom of the staircase? Or the frames that are all put together neat and tidy; or the toys that he needs to put away before doing something else. Oh, yes, I hear you already: “how lucky,” “great kid,” “why complain,” but we actually think he should chill out a bit, before we wake up one day and our CD collection is reorganized by release date.

KG: One of the things I’ve noticed is that being parents of a two-year-old is a lot like being the most powerful nation in the world trying to control an occupied foreign land. On the face of it, it seems like we have all the power and should be able to tame this child and mold him in our image. To dictate his constitution as it were. But there’s the language problem. And even when both of us are home, there aren’t enough boots on the ground. He gets most of his information from a kids’ version of Al Jazeera known as the Disney Channel. Plus, the little insurgent has learned very quickly that there are certain lines we just won’t cross and so he’s pretty much not afraid of us. He knows that he can scream longer and louder than the folks back home will tolerate. And he takes an unreasonable all-or-nothing stance when it comes to negotiations: If the insurgent wants a banana, a perfectly logical explanation for why he cannot have one, like “Those bananas aren’t ripe,” is insufficient. He sees bananas and demands that the corrupt interim government distribute them at once.

As for your question, I think an admission of any mistakes would be unhelpful at the present time given the situation in-country.

MB: Considering our culture’s popular myth that parenting is the bestest, most awesomely awesome thing ever, I think we can all say that we made our decisions on the basis of flawed intelligence.

AD: Biggest mistake? Feeding them chips, against my wife’s repeated warnings. Chips are now the only food they eat with any regularity. Any kind of chips: Doritos, nachos, potato chips, Pringles. “More, more chips,” they say and point up at the cupboard where we keep the food. “More cheese?” I try. “More green beans?” Not that they ever eat cheese or green beans. “More chips!” they chant. “More, more!” Half the time they choke on them. They happen to be chanting it right now, as I type.

JB: Ah, the food question. We were so proud of his non-fussy nature at first. When his contemporaries balked at solids, shunned spoons, and spat up carefully hand-crafted meals at the slightest change in texture, our darling son just plowed through the food groups. Now, however, we watch as he masticates a banana, crams bread into his mouth, or wolfs down several portions of vegetables and wonder whether we’ve unwittingly raised a potential gold medalist in the field of competitive eating.

MB: Our son subsists entirely on a snack food called “Pirate’s Booty.” This would be bad enough, but it’s compounded by the fact that he saunters around the house saying, “want booty.” We don’t love the game, we love the playa.

DG: It’s often hard to tell what effect I can have on my kid. He obviously has characteristics that come right from me and my wife—he’s a weisenheimer know-it-all like me, he’s sociable and popular like Patti is. And there are things I’ve tried to nurture in him and been pretty successful at: his love of drawing and taste for the macabre, for example. But I’ve failed on numerous fronts: he isn’t a guitar virtuoso, rarely makes his bed, will only shower after several minutes of discussion, and sounds slightly mocking when, as instructed, he calls me “milord.”

I’ve wrestled a little with my fathering style. I’d rather not roll over all the time. But it’s hard for me to be a hard-ass. It usually backfires and makes us all feel shitty (and makes me feel like my second stepfather) while accomplishing next to nothing in the way of results.

It seems that it’s basically impossible (unless one has a good, solid Skinner box) for me to deliberately make much of a dent on my kid’s character. All I can be is an example of someone who has been a reasonably successful human being and hope that he learns from my mistakes (doesn’t drink an entire bottle of Teacher’s scotch, doesn’t date many Saudi girls, doesn’t minor in Soviet politics, doesn’t skip salads, doesn’t shave against the grain, etc.).

Making Google-able baby pictures available to his arch-enemies in junior high would probably ruin his opinion of me forever.

MB: I’m off to look up “Skinner box” in Wikipedia.

KF: I hope it’s as dirty as it sounds.

JB: Things that initially seem cute become alarmingly ingrained habits. He evolved a peculiar gurning grin—budding teeth thrust forward, eyes squinted. Naturally, we imitated it in delight, encouraging him to do it more and more… Only later did we notice friends and family recoil in slight horror at the sight.

Other things are more transient—at this stage the window for parental gloating at your child’s amazing aptitude and social skills barely lasts for a week until his peers catch up. We think of him as a fast learner, an early developer, a capable walker. “Oh he’s fine,” we tell friends as he waddles out of our sight into another room, before there’s a bang, a heart-stopping pause, and a familiar wail.

RB: This question reminds me of the story of Chou En-lai being asked his opinion of the French Revolution—to which he responded, “It’s too soon to tell.” An on-the-run assessment of my skills in this area boil down to what I think of my son. And I think Cuba is a great kid—funny, sensitive, willful, curious. (I do regret not tying up his right hand so that he might have become a left-handed thrower.)

Actually, I don’t think of child rearing, or the modern name, “parenting,” in terms of mistakes or accomplishments. The whole, uh, process, is so fluid and evanescent, I am more apt to focus on what my son presents at any particular instance. I have come to appreciate the observation that each of us has two lives, one we learn with and one in which we live the lessons we have learned. One notion that I have tried to keep in sight is to aspire be a better parent than my parents, who are of a pre-television generation. One that, I have theorized, was not well-prepared for raising children in a frenetically modern world—look how screwed my so-called Boomer generation is, if you need any evidence of that.

Also, to think of one’s child in terms of rating one’s own performance risks obscuring a child’s needs and individuality. The whole point of being a parent is to protect your child while you are training and teaching them to get along in this world. I rarely think about how I am doing as a parent (though I do spend introspective moments on various of the travails and grand operatic episodes we are all presented with in life) and I am always paying attention to how my boy is doing and reacting. That’s the best I can do and if I weren’t doing that than I would feel I had failed.

MB: One mistake I guess we’ve made is in encouraging our son to be completely fearless. My wife and I were raised in the ‘70’s, when Sesame Street and albums like “Free to Be You and Me” were all “rah-rah, build up your self-esteem, you can do anything, don’t be afraid!”

We’ve now passed that mentality on to our child, who now suffers from the illusion that he is bulletproof. The other day after his bath I put him on our bed to dress him in his jim-jams and then, on a lark, threw the towel over his head. He reacted by laughing, leaping to his feet, and running full-bore in a random direction. When he went over the edge of the bed he hung there for a moment, Elmer Fudd style, legs bicycling in mid-air, before hitting the ground with a heart-stopping Wa-UMP! Tears were shed, hugs were administered, bruises were admired…and then, when I put him back on the bed, he was off like a shot, looking over his shoulder like, “OK, but can you catch me NOW?”

As for what we’ve done well, around Halloween my son saw someone dressed up as a pirate and said, unprompted, “Arrrrrrr!” I was understandably proud.

TMN: A few of you have chosen to share a good deal of information about your child online. What’s gained by this exposure? Are you worried about any privacy issues, either now or when your child’s 13 and pissed? Danny, in particular, what’s it like having a son who blogs?

DG: My son has a blog!? Why that little….

After several years of writing about fairly personal things, I have realized that self-exposure is actually quite insulating. The fact is, everyone is so completely self-involved that when one exposes facts about oneself, readers generally respond to it only in self-referential ways. So by seeming to putting it out there, people are actually less likely to pry. My memoir, Everyday Matters, came out three years ago and I have never had a twinge of regret for sharing my pretty intimate story.

I also take for granted that we live in a world where privacy is an illusion. Anyone with a browser can get into your shit if they want to bother. Might as well control it. And frankly most of the time nobody really is that interested. And I am a huge Breaking Bonaduce fan.

As for Jack’s blog, it is actually a pretty common thing nowadays among the youngsters. Jack’s teacher has a blog and so do several of his classmates. And believe me, if you can get your kid to sit at the computer and make something rather than playing Warcraft or watching The Simpsons, you do what you can to encourage it. I have a diary I kept when I was his age and it has just one entry: “Hammy the hamster died today.” I would love to have more insight into what I was like at that age. One day Jack will.

Oh, and finally, I take for granted that my son will hate me at some point, so it might as well be because I wrote how big and red his balls were when he was born on the world-famous TMN.

KG: This is what it would be like if my kid blogged:

No juice, milk! No juice, milk! No juice, milk! No juice, milk! No juice, milk! No juice, milk! No juice, milk! No juice, milk! No juice, milk! No juice, milk! No juice, milk!
03:29 PM :: COMMENTS (29)

Abana? Abana? Abana? Abana? Abana? Abana? Abana? Abana? Abana? Abana? Abana?
03:28 PM :: COMMENTS (94)

Juice? Juice? Juice? Juice? Juice? Juice? Juice? Juice? Juice? Juice? Juice?
03:27 PM :: COMMENTS (209)

I’m sympathetic to the privacy issues. When my first novel Cast of Shadows came out, the Chicago Tribune Magazine did a story that included pictures of me and Max. Since then I’ll be out walking with my son and total strangers will stop and pat him on the head and say, “Hi, Max!” It’s humbling and exciting and terrifying all at the same time. As he gets older, I’m going to be much more careful about putting him out there like that.

I think there’s a bit of added risk for people who blog, oddly. That relationship with readers is much more intimate than it is with anything that I do. When I read the comments on Defective Yeti, I’m often alarmed at how many readers feel like they know Matthew so well. Then I have to acknowledge that I feel very close to him and the Queen, too, even though I’ve met Matthew only once and the Queen never. I think this is a testament to the fact that he is an exceptional memoirist and the vast majority of his readers are responding genuinely to his honesty and humor and the universal quality of his experience.

Still we all have to worry about the guy with the pipe-cleaner chromosome.

I agree largely with Danny that privacy is an illusion. I’m reminded of the old joke about two campers being chased by bears: One says to the other, “I don’t need to be faster than the bear, I only need to be faster than you.” It’s important to be careful and I’d be the first to say never volunteer too much. But I’d argue it’s impossible to keep a secret like your child’s name from someone who really wants to know it.

Doesn’t mean you should make it easy.

MB: I do talk about my son a bit on my blog, but I do so using a pseudonym. And astute readers will have notice that I have never used his name in any of these Father’s Roundtables. So, yes, privacy is a concern to me. But it’s all about foiling search engines—if he goes to a job interview in 2020 and the HR guy thinks “Malcom Starcharmer Baldwin” into his GoogleBellum, he will not learn about my son’s predilection for kicking people in the balls.

KF: Is your son’s reaction to learning the internet knows him as “The Squirrelly” a concern?

MB: And the other advantage to the pseudonym is that my son will not be able to Google up I wrote about him.

FB: I think you create a site because you feel the urge to share the pictures of your newborn. Isn’t he/she the most amazing thing on earth? And your friends/familly so desperately asked to see all the photos and videos of the first smile/noise/step/word/sentence. I guess it fades away a little after a while, not that you lose interest (quite the contrary), but they do. After all, growing up, it is just another kid that doesn’t really care for them and will end up playing stupid video games and listen to some weird music—not like the kind we had in the good old days, you know.

Regarding privacy issues. I’m far more worried by the millions of CCTV cameras in London than by a few photos on the web.

KF: The upside is huge, in that it has really allowed us to keep our extended family in touch with how our son is growing. I start getting angry emails from grandmothers if I go more than a few weeks without updating the site. I’ve also enjoyed being able to compare pictures from years ago with how he looks now, and read text from the early days when things were very frustrating. It’s been helpful to remember that stuff.

I am worried about whether I’ll have to take it down once he gets older. Making Google-able baby pictures available to his arch-enemies in junior high would probably ruin his opinion of me forever. Unless all the other kids had websites as well.

RB: This is not an issue for me. I don’t see engaging in a public conversation about one’s child as particularly revealing or invasive. But who knows how one’s kid will see it at some point in the future. I do know that my boy is aware that I mention him to writers with whom I talk—for a few years now I have been making books (four) for Cuba (my son) in which my “subjects” inscribe a blank page in a hardcover journal or sketch book, with some advice to Cuba—and then I put that author’s photo on the page. Early on, when I showed Cuba one of the books and read him the inscriptions, he said, “These people must really love me.” What I took from that was his cognizance that I might talk about him to others. And I was happy to believe he was comfortable with that.

TMN: How has having a child affected your relationship with your own father?

AD: You understand your father, really for the first time. You can never really understand your dad until you become a dad yourself. Why he waited up at night for you to come home. Why he went to every lacrosse game, why he would sometimes let me skip the bus and drive me to school. Why he went out with his buddies one night a week. What kind of enormous financial risks he was taking by starting his own business when he had three kids. Why he bet my brother in a poker game. Wait…

KG: I have always been close to my parents but since Max was born I remember all the stuff that used to embarrass me—”Where will you be and who are you with, etc.”—and I’m now embarrassed for having been embarrassed. I’ve always loved my mom and dad, but I never felt responsible for them. I have loved my wife intensely since the day I met her but I’ve never felt responsible for her either. Now I understand what it means to feel both love and responsibility for your child that combination is the most powerful thing in the world, my God.

RB: First, I think there is the unconscious credit and good will a [grown] child gets for providing grandchildren. Second, no doubt, I now have a greater empathy for my father’s concerns and behavior in my own upbringing, and most importantly, my child seemed to tap a heretofore-unknown reservoir of compassion, which I believe made me a better person—a happenstance that was not lost on my father. All things which did not so much improve a decent relationship but made it more ostensive and explicit.

Of course, who knew that my octogenarian father and I would actually have conversations about the medications each of us were required to take—which either forged a closer bond or was a result of one.

DG: I haven’t really had much to do with my father since my parents were divorced when I was two or three, but becoming a dad myself has certainly changed my perception of my old man. I think differently of how he must have felt losing me—I can’t imagine not seeing my son for a decade. Consequently, I am very nice to my wife and hope to remain in her good graces until Jack’s in college.

KF: Amen. My relationship with my father hasn’t changed significantly, but it has definitely informed my relationship with my son. I’ve been very active in trying to forge a relationship with my son that has a markedly different outcome than my relationship with my father.

JB: If anything, it’s made me realize just how different my father’s life was to mine. He would have been far younger than me when I was born, in the service, traveling the world, rarely seeing his son. It’s also made me revisit my childhood, and how I perceived visiting his parents, and in the process I look at their house (which was not my childhood home) in terms of a paradise for a small child—a place to explore and play. In turn, that’s made me think just how much a parent shapes a child’s reality. In retrospect, I feel much closer to my parents as a result.

MB: A couple of years ago I had a job that required me to arrive at 5 a.m., as I did not own a car at the time. So my girlfriend used to drag herself out of bed every morning at 4:30 and drive my sorry ass down there. Though I bought a vehicle shortly thereafter, the memory of what my wife (incredibly, she agreed to marry me after this) did for me over the course of those months continues to haunt me.

Of course, my father did far more when I was an infant. Fortunately, evolution has designed us to forget everything before the age of six so we can enter our teens and 20s completely free of any sense of obligation to our parents, and therefore devote the time we would otherwise have used to call them to replaying World 4-1 of Super Mario Land in the hopes of getting our record time below 160 seconds.

And then one day you’re mopping excrement off the nether end of your own child and thinking, “Man, this is a lousy job. I hope when this kid is my age he appreciates all I’ve done for him as much as I appreciate all that my…uh…” And then there it is: the specter of used-to-get-up-at-three-in-the-morning-to-make-sure-I-hadn’t-kicked-off-my-blankets takes up residence in the back of your head and insistently pokes you in the aft-brain whenever you interact with your own father from that day forward.

FB: I don’t think our relationship changed much, but maybe that’s due to the fact that I don’t think I’ve changed much either. To be honest I don’t often think about my relationship with my father; it is not a “special” relationship: I’m neither in conflict (quite the opposite), nor telling him all about me and my life, and he is the same way. So, do I fell more like “a father,” as in, older and more responsible? Not really. Did I gain weight? Unfortunately.

TMN: Final question: Some day your kid(s) will find this in Google. Please say something highly embarrassing. Sex lives are open territories.

KG: Cripes, the only reason I agree to write for this rag is because in a moment of vulnerability I once told you about the monthly “Raspberry Schnapps and Briefs Night” in my all-male college dorm. What do you people want from me? When do I get to find out about Xenu and the tiny aliens that live in my pancreas?

Anyway, it’s already pretty clear that my son won’t need Google to find me embarrassing. This morning I was trying to turn our television watching into something marginally educational. I said, “Max, which Wiggle is the red Wiggle?” He turned and looked at me the way Barry Bonds looks at, well, everybody. “Murray, daddy,” he said. The word “idiot” was implied.

JB: You just have to hope that they can’t be bothered, really. Presumably in 20 years’ time, Google will deliver your personal search results directly into your synapses, so all modern children will have an innate understanding of exactly what made their parents tick. Embarrassment will become such a rare commodity that they’ll be damn grateful we supplied them with a bucketload.

AD: Right now the boys are on their third trip through a Teletubbies DVD while I check my email. And, by the way, it’s not quite 9 a.m.

KF: I can’t think of anything truly embarrassing to tell about my son. As an infant he only peed on me a handful of times. As long as that hasn’t changed by the time he Googles this, he’ll be aces with me.

RB: Apparently, guided by Eleanor Roosevelt’s famous remark about embarrassment, it’s not word or identifiable emotion that seems obvious in the Birnbaum lexicography or emotional makeup. Not to mention that embarrassment is really the mildest form of schadenfreude. Cuba does seem to be very uncomfortable admitting that he is hurt when he trips and falls or bangs himself on something—some serious stoicism that he didn’t get from me.

FB: My son, you’re reading this and you are [choose one]:

  • 10 years old: “Don’t you have anything better to do than searching the web for articles about you? What about your homework?”
  • 16 years old: “TMN is not exactly the best site for porn.”
  • 30 years old: “Did you really pay $100 to access this article? TMN are real crooks!”
  • 60 years old: “Wow, you only found this now? They really messed up their Google ranking.”

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