Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Dad With a Capital “ D “
by Michael Turpin

I recall growing up in a house with four boys where neighbors routinely referred to my mother as “ that poor woman “ and my father would walk in each night at 7 p.m. and calmly ask , “ Who gets the belt “ ?

“Let’s see” she would begin. “Michael and his friends lobbed oranges at what they thought was a slow moving group of cars that turned out to be a funeral procession.
Our garage is full of audio visual equipment that was stolen from the middle school after YOUR son used the glass cutter art kit we gave him for Christmas to cut a hole in the audio visual room window. The boys were not sure what to do with the merchandise. Apparently your son does not have someone to fence the goods yet. Miles was suspended for streaking what he thought was an all girl’s high school but mistakenly turned out to be the all girls elementary school and Patrick’s school counselor thinks he may have some form of personality disorder as it is the only acceptable excuse for his behavior…..Otherwise, it was a pretty good day. ” My father, un-phased and a firm believer in corporal punishment, would swiftly mete out his justice in hopes that his boys would grow up to be stewards of the community and not wards of the criminal justice system.

My father was a Dad with a capital “ D “. He would routinely break into tirades over politics, any form of incompetence, and “liberals “ including our local minister who he was convinced was an agent for the KGB. He never apologized. Empathy was something “liberals” used as Trojan Horse term for income redistribution. He never shared his feelings or cried, except perhaps at the collapse of the 1969 Cubs. He was the king of his castle and while his boys gave him a run for his money, our kingdom was under the martial law of a benevolent dictatorship. He was the illegitimate offspring of Pinochet and Tito. While no one questioned for a minute that my mother was the real genius behind my father’s “ success “, both as a businessman and a parent, he was the executive and judicial branch of the family. While Mom’s intuition could detect a fire, fight, any form of alcohol, illicit material or inappropriate behavior within a five mile radius, he was the man. Their partnership celebrated its 50th year this past summer.

Yet, “ The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit “ generation carried obvious inequities. Its chronic chauvinism and silent martyrdom had its flaws and dysfunctions. Later mothers and society with the help of Gloria Steinem (another Russian Spy ) broke through to celebrate equality and liberate women to apply their cunning intuition across a broader field of personal and professional opportunities. The fathers, the Dad’s with a big “ D” were left behind. They grumbled, swore and continued to lament the erosion of societal values and the slow emasculation of the American male. As their sons wed and became a next generation of fathers, the sons quickly realized they were entering un-chartered waters and Dad with the capital “ D” appeared to be an outdated point of reference.

“I never changed as many damned diapers with all four of you boys as you do for her “ my father mumbled as I nimbly replaced my newborn daughter’s diaper.” I knew we were both in new territory. He, thinking I had been neutered in some UFO secret experiment and me, wondering when my wife would offer him a sprig of hemlock to stir his ice tea. However, as I got older, I regained an appreciation for the big “ D’.

Let’s face it, being today’s dad carries a lot of benefits but also is spelled with a lower case “d ”. While I see growing up in Big D’s house like France under Napoleon, he looks at my house like a twisted version of Lord of the Flies. In my home, dad gets home from work to a wife and teenaged daughter locked in a mortal combat over the amount of midriff her outfit is showing. Like a UN peace keeper, I don my blue helmet and try to break up the brutal internecine fighting, only to have them both turn on me and chase me into my office. When disciplining my two boys, I am supposed to use intimidating language like, “let’s use our inside voices “and the brutally decisive “Ok, mister, this time you really have lost a privilege.” Dad with a big D wants to vomit. The boys react to me as if I have the retaliatory power of Luxembourg and continue with their misbehavior. You know what finally works? A page out of the old Big D’s playbook - - the occasional yell, the immediate intervention, the threat always followed up with determined consequences.

Evolution is a funny thing. The old big “D” dad had to go but the little “d” dad has to develop new tricks and methods to ensure his survival. Occasionally activating those less politically correct genes to keep the herd moving west isn’t always a bad thing. It’s nice to remember you can combine the soft skin of restraint and compassion with the hard sinews of being decisive, fair and tough - - that’s little “ d” and Big “D” combining to make a better man.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Instantly Gratified Kids
by Julie Butler Evans

“Good things come to those who wait,” is a concept that seems to fly right over the current generation’s head. “I-want-what-I-want-and-I-want-it-now” no longer seems to apply to addicts, unless you count the tiny and not-so-tiny pod of children growing up in today’s world. They are addicted to NOW.

With a bastion of micro-waveable treats, instant music via i-tunes; cell phones; movies-on-demand (apt moniker); Amazon.com overnight delivery; digital and cell-phone cameras allowing immediate glossy photos in hand or to the eye and a myriad of additional conveniences and electronics of the 21st century, getting on-the-spot satisfaction is easy.

As I was mulling over this column’s theme, my daughter unwittingly illustrated the topic perfectly. She asked me to blow-dry her hair for her (because doing it herself would be too timely and too much work?) and as she complained about how long it was taking (are you kidding me?!), I offered sarcastically that perhaps someone could create a dryer that zaps the hair dry and straight 30 seconds. “Oh!” she exclaimed excitedly, “that would be soooo cool! Awesome! Do you think someone will invent that?” “Probably,” I muttered under my breath, eyes rolling in my head.

Whatever happened to waiting, to going to a store to buy an album/CD; to needing to get home before calling a friend?

“Can we go to Grammaphone now? I want the Star Wars video game;” “Just order take-out, mom. It takes too long for you to cook;” “I don’t want to do temp jobs, My website will make a million immediately;” “I need new jeans. Can you go get some at Rugby when I’m in school?” Last time I checked I was a parent, not a manservant. Or are they one and the same now and I have I enabled myself to act as such?

I recall almost with fondness how my friends and I needed to wait to save our allowance to go to Main Street in Westport to buy an album at Klein’s record department, or purchase some hoop earrings from Country Gal. Once the money was saved we may have to bide our time a bit longer until one of our parents was available able to drop us off downtown. Getting pictures from Homecoming took about a week to be developed. Fast food meant a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

It’s not only the kids who are used to instant gratification; we adults have hopped on the magic carpet ride to immediacy. Because it’s available. With a click of the mouse we can avoid driving to the shoe store and instead find a pair of Uggs boxed on our doorstep within 24 hours. Netflix provides movies in the mail instead of searching for a parking space downtown. I can log on to the computer at any time of day or night and search out what’s going on in Iraq, or read a quick email from Blake, rather than wait an interminable amount of time as did my military family predecessors during World War 2 and Vietnam. An email “thank you” replaces – as my good friend Michael Turpin pointed out in a column in the other New Canaan newspaper – the “lost art of letter writing.”

Even though the tools and technologies of without-delay exist in our world, maybe we can still take the time (all puns intended on that phrase) to model delayed gratification and engage in some old-fashioned methods to retrieve and acquire an object of desire or necessity. Drive into town to rent a movie. Once in a while disallow cell phones and laptops on vacation (come on; you can do it Mr. or Mrs. Busy-pants). Let your pre-driving teen to cool their heels for half an hour when they call and proclaim that you pick them up NOW – there’s no need for you to drop what you were doing unless it’s an emergency. Diet pills, starving and incessant exercise, and/or liposuction to attain a rail-thin body isn’t nearly as healthy as simply eating smaller meals and running a few miles a week to teach our daughters that skinny doesn’t equal self-esteem. Blue jean, sneakers or video game buying can wait until the weekend.

In a nutshell, we can teach this: Gratification can be achieved the old-fashioned way - by earning it.