I don't usually like to toot my own horn, because frankly I think that might be illegal everywhere except Nevada. But on Feb. 7, I snagged a first-place award for Best Humor Columnist from the New England Press Association. Which proves the journalistic truism: The more newspapers go out of business, the better I do in these contests.
Anyway, below is one of the columns the judges cited, from last June:
The other day I actually used the phrase, “Do you kids think I’m made of money?” And I did it without even a hint of irony — I was genuinely wondering what could have given my children, ages 6 and 9, the idea that I had the expendable income to afford, say, a hot tub, or a wall-mounted HDTV, or gas.
Then I thought, “My God, I’ve become my father.”
Like so many other aspects of growing older, I figure this must have happened gradually — it’s sort of like becoming a regular Oldies station listener, or reaching the point where you should probably be shaving your ears. But I knew I’d made the transformation when I realized I’d somehow inherited my father’s incredulity at his children’s seemingly complete lack of knowledge about the cost of, well, anything.
He found it particularly galling when my siblings and I left lights on, which we never understood — after all, we might want to come back into that room at some point, and leaving the light on would keep us from having to expend the extra effort required to flip the switch again. But now, suddenly, I find myself brimming with indignation when I come upon a lit light bulb in an empty room.
“That’s electricity … that we’re paying for … that no one is using!” I declare to no one in particular, since my kids are of course not there anymore, having moved to the other side of the house to determine the best spot for the wall-mounted HDTV.
That isn’t the only clue that I’ve morphed into my father — there are the flecks (OK, swaths) of gray that have appeared in my hair, and I’ve also become the family member suffering through a small cup of sherbet while my kids are scarfing down ice creams the size of their heads. I always felt bad for Dad when we went out for ice cream, and now, sure enough, I feel bad for me.
Not that I’m an exact clone of my father. First of all, Dad was (and remains) blessed with a swarthy Sal Mineo mane, whereas mine is starting to look like I skipped turning into my father and went directly to turning into my grandfather. He also knew how to put his foot down, while I still find myself negotiating with my kids far too often — they’re so adept at it I think they might be sneaking out of bed at night and watching “Boston Legal.” My son’s even starting to sound like Shatner.
“But Dad,” their arguments always start, followed by a lengthy diatribe about how I, say, told them they could stay up until 9 p.m. but that it was currently 8:56. Their logic is unassailable, but somehow my father would have found a way to assail it, and us, right into bed. I also made an error my father never would have made, namely to declare that “My name is NOT ‘But Dad.’” This led my son to associate “Dad” with his favorite word, “Butt,” resulting in no end of hilarity. (“Dad-Butt-Dad-Butt-Dad-Stinky!-Butt,” etc.)
But the fact of the matter is, the older my kids get, the more I find myself engaging in the activities I most associate with my father: running alongside bicycles that have been recently sheared of their training wheels; throwing and catching baseballs while explaining the arcane rules of a sport that makes no apparent sense; poring over homework assignments that bear no resemblance to the ones I got as a kid. (What happened to carrying the one?)
And I don’t know about all the other fathers, but when he wasn’t complaining about the electric bill, mine was doing all of the above with no questions asked — in fact, it was understood that there wasn’t anything off limits when it came to leaning on Dad. And come to think of it, there still isn’t.
So as I sit here writing this on Father’s Day, I realize that maybe turning into your father is just part of being a father, period — and in my case, if I can embrace those fatherly activities with half the patience, love and aplomb that my father did, I’m probably in pretty good shape. In other words, if in the end I have to turn into somebody … there’s nobody I’d rather be.
And just to show I mean it, Dad, next time I visit — I’ll get the lights.
Peter Chianca is a managing editor for GateHouse Media New England. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/pchianca. To receive At Large by e-mail, write to firstname.lastname@example.org, with the subject line “SUBSCRIBE.”