Every kid wants their dad to be proud of them, but most dads don’t admit that the reverse is true, too. I’m not like most dads. I’m a stay-at-home writer with school-aged offspring. What do my kids ever see me doing that they could possibly be proud of? Staring at my laptop? “Hey dad, high-five on using italics to stress your point!” Spending an hour on Facebook instead of revising my millionth draft? “Way to go with the procrastinating, pops!” We writer types need to be alone to do our jobs. The only evidence that we even have a job is if we’re lucky enough to have a book come out.
I got lucky this month. My book on the funny side of fatherhood finally got published. It’s called Dan Gets A Minivan: Life at the Intersection of Dude and Dad, and I’ll tell you what. It should have be the ticket to making my kids proud, seeing as they’re in every single chapter. The problem was that I didn’t want them to read it. For starters, daddy sprinkles in a bit of colorful language here and there. My six-year-old, Josie, is just learning to sound out words, and these aren’t the words I want her practicing on. Mainly, though, I tried to write a funny book about the ups and, well, the downs of moving from couplehood to familyhood. In a chapter about our inaugural trip to Disneyland, for example, I had this to say: “The goal of family travel, I formerly believed, was to expand our children’s cultural horizons. The goal of family travel, I currently believe, is to avoid stowing them in the overhead compartment until we’ve begun our final descent.”
Leo, my nine-year-old beamed with pride when he saw that chapter excerpted in Parents Magazine. It’s no big surprise, since his photo with Goofy accompanied the excerpt. Suddenly, he was famous. What the hell, I figured. He wants to read it, let him read it. He laughed out loud, and begged to read the whole book. “Maybe one day,” I told him, “but it’s really a book for parents, not kids.”
A week later, we walked past Anderson’s, one of our local bookstores, and Dan Gets a Minivan was displayed in the window. Leo took a picture of it with my I-phone, and e-mailed it to his friend. That’s powerful stuff when you’re a dad in an occupation that has no “take your kids to work day,” and your kids have never met a single one of your colleagues since you kind of don’t have any.
“A book party? What’s a book party?” Leo asked as I was driving our family up to Maine. It was publication week, and some old friends were about to throw a celebration in honor of my book. There would be a barbecue at their house, I told him, and then I’d read a section aloud to the grownups while he and his sister watched T.V.
“We don’t want to watch TV!” they protested. This was a first; a sentence I’d never heard uttered by either of them, ever, since the day they were born. “We want to watch you!”
No doubt the way to a dad’s heart is to be chosen over SpongeBob. But the chapter I planned to read at the party was an affectionate, yet…“candid” one about my mother, a.k.a. their grandmother, a.k.a. the woman who comes to “help” me with them once a week while my wife is at work. “The good part is that she wants to spend time with the kids,” I write in the book. “The bad part is that I’m one of the kids she wants to spend time with.”
This is not the sort of stuff you necessarily want your own kids to hear. Even if you do want to make them feel proud.
How Leo and Josie wound up in the front row during the book party is this: my wife snuck them in. Josie sat on her lap. Leo held her hand. They laughed. They jumped up and down. They cheered every time they heard their own names.
When it came time for me to sign books, Leo came up to my table with a request. “Can I autograph some, too?” he asked. “I mean, you actually couldn’t have written it without me.”
He had a point. So, the two of us spent the next ten minutes co-autographing. I couldn’t help but notice that he’d finally figured out how to make a decent “L” in script. Not only that, but he was making eye-contact with his many fans. There was a confidence that impressed me, and a sense of humor sophisticated enough to see that all those grandma jokes were delivered with affection.
“We should write a funny book together some day,” I suggested. “The two of us can hit the road in the minivan and do a father/son book tour!“ I left him speechless. Another first.
What can I tell you? I was proud of the kid.
—Images and video courtesy of the author