Spoofs & Satire

The Languid Dirge of the Hippo Father

While “Tiger Moms” may pour their energies into rearing successful children, Long Island offspring are learning to beat the tiger cubs at Halo.

Credit: Jon Nagl

This is a story about a dad, two tough-as-nails boys, and one poofy-haired cat all three of us want dead. It’s also about Frampton and Townshend, the Xbox 360 and the PS3, and how we embellish the nutritional value of the dinners we make on Tuesday and Thursday nights, when my wife goes to her Zumba classes. (The truth is, we eat cereal, which is reliably delicious and satisfying when consumed in quantities of three bowls or more.)

This was supposed to be a story about how Long Island fathers are good at raising testosterone-fueled boys without even lifting our hand off the remote. But then I thought: Some dads out here are grade-A wusses. Like Bob Martinelli, whose home security system went off during the middle of his family vacation, and who should be thanking me for taking care of the nuisance with my cable clippers. What Bob can’t understand is that sons are already equipped with nature’s house alarms: their fists and their balls. Four warning devices right on their bodies, for free.

I use the term “Long Island father” loosely. When I say “Western dads,” I mean everyone in America to the left of Nassau and Suffolk counties. Though Long Island fathers differ in physical appearance (many, like myself, rock a moustache), we share a temperament. Our common bond is the spirit of an animal that is cunning, savage, and, when necessary, silent: the hippopotamus.

The hippo, the living symbol of obesity and laziness, generally inspires ridicule, but is actually one of the most dangerous and aggressive animals in Africa, according to something I saw on Animal Planet—or maybe Discovery. It was one of those educational programs I turn on when I’m not watching the games or popping through these DVDs of The Shield, which, in my opinion, is better than The Wire. You heard me right.

A lot of fathers in other states must wonder how Long Island dads raise such badass sons. They wonder why our boys are all about football, ice hockey, and girls, what it’s like at home, and if they can do it too. I’m here to tell you that even if you’ve only been to Fire Island or the Hamptons—though it’s likely you have already traded in your sack and have larger issues to contend with—you can still raise your kids the Long Island way. Here are some things my sons, Jake and Colin, were never allowed to do:

  • Attend a sleepover without chicks being there, too.
  • Play tennis, golf, track, swimming, or any other sport meant for girls and old people.
  • Listen to that crotch-grabbing circus music popular with all the other kids.
  • Not be the no. 1 student in gym.
  • Paint or draw.
  • Play any video game other than anything in the Call of Duty or Halo series.
  • Not play Call of Duty or Halo.

If you think this is harsh, maybe it’s because Long Island dads can get away with things other dads can’t. Our multitude of sports teams in the New York area provide a renewable source of teenage aggression to which other states don’t have access. Allegiances are ingrained from the moment of childbirth. You can hate the Yankees and love the Mets. You can be a Jets fan—and want to punch Giants fans in the teeth. Dig the Islanders and not the Rangers (if you’re dumb). Pretty soon we’ll be able to choose between the Knicks or the Nets. All this in addition to divisional rivals. What it means for our children is that there is no solid sporting loyalty within our own state, so fights break out easily. Our boys learn to always be on guard, even among friends, and especially during the Subway Series.

The other night, we were running through some football plays out in the backyard. The temperature was about 13 degrees, and I had hosed down the grass earlier that afternoon to simulate snowy conditions.

Yes, sports engenders irrational hatred—the best kind, I think you’ll agree—and my advice to dads in other states is this: Even if you and your sons are geographically forced to support a team no one cares about—the Seahawks, for example, or the Golden State Warriors—never miss forcing your boys to watch a game with you in mutual silence. If you are unlucky enough to live in one of the 25 states without a pro team, push whatever college organization looks good. You may have to play along, but it will be worth it, trust me.

I raised Jake and Colin to be tough, both mentally and physically. When it comes time to get a job (contracting is down, I tell them, but cable installation is booming), I have no doubt they’ll be able to handle anything. The other night, we were running through some football plays out in the backyard. The temperature was about 13 degrees, and I had hosed down the grass earlier that afternoon to simulate snowy conditions. The moon looked like the top of the Vince Lombardi Trophy photographed at a three-quarter angle. I was teaching them a tackle I had devised called “The Hippo’s Mouth.” Colin slipped on an icy patch and fell face-first into Jake’s cleat. He wouldn’t get up, and I could hear him whimpering. I yelled at Colin and called him garbage.

“Garbage?” he said, spitting out a tooth, something I had only seen in movies like Daredevil, Stir of Echoes, and Slap Shot. “Is that the best you got?”

I was the proudest I’ve ever been. I was so moved I did a flying elbow drop right on his sternum.