Friday, January 28, 2011

“P” stands for Preschool, Predator and Parenting

One of the hardest parts of any large-scale move—like ours from Christmas Island last year to Idaho—is waving goodbye to one set of friends and having to make another.

The internet cushions the blow for adults; we’re still in email, Facebook, Twitter, Skype, etc., contact with our friends from the Old Life.

But there are fewer such options for 5-year-olds. Fortunately, most 5-year-olds are still pretty resilient to this sort of thing (very little Big Picture thinking developed yet); ours sure has been.

Still, we’ve taken pains to make sure he’s as well-socialized as a sensitive, only-child kid in a strange land can be. We haven’t observed any kids The Boy’s age in the neighborhood where we live, and the kids in his prechool are drawn from all over the city.

So we’ve arranged a few “playdates” with kids in his class that he has expressed an interest in seeing outside of school. None have really come to much so far, but the latest one was a real eye-opener.

The kid in question, we’ll call him Dallas, and The Boy seemed to be great friends at school so we set up a play date at a local indoor kids’ climbing emporium. It’s like a cubicled, 3-story climbing structure the length of a warehouse, with all kinds of cool nooks and crannies and slides.

So the boys ran off together, and I sat down with Dallas’s guardians to BS the time away. They were obviously the tot’s grandparents, and eventually revealed that Dallas’s parents have some substance issues that they were still addressing, which is why their grandson lives with them.

About this time, some kid starts screaming and crying from the depths of the Borg-like play labyrinth. But I figure with all the kids there, it’s statistically unlikely that the crying kid is mine. I am proved wrong about a minute later when my poor son came running up to the adult’s lounge, crying, saying that Dallas had been jumping up and down on him in one of the small, square rooms and wouldn’t stop. In a hot second, Dallas came running up behind him. I waited for his grandparents to question the child about The Boy’s allegations, but when it became clear they were not going to, I interceded.

Me: Were you jumping up and down on The Boy?

Dallas: (eyes down) Yes.

Me: Did he ask you to stop?

Dallas: Yes.

Me: Did you stop?

Dallas: No

Me: Why not? Couldn’t you tell you were hurting him?

Dallas: [pause] I don’t know.

Anyhow, The Boy seemed willing to forgive and forget, so they went off and played another 90 minutes, no problem. I was leery at first, but it seemed to be an isolated incident. So before we went our separate ways, we made a playdate for the next weekend, at their house.

The next weekend came and the playdate seemed to go fine. The grandparents were very nice and their house very grandparenterly. The boys sequestered themselves away in his bedroom and began making an awful racket with an electronic drum kit some sadist had given Dallas.

Three hours later, we’re driving home and I ask The Boy how it went. Everything was fine, he said, except that while they were in the bedroom near the beginning, Dallas hit him repeatedly on the head with a plastic hammer till he cried. Alarmed, I asked The Boy why he didn’t come out and tell me, and he told me Dallas talked him out of it.

So when I got home, I wrote the kid’s grandparents about the incident. I wrote, in part:

I’m as concerned about the fact that every playdate seems to include Dallas assaulting The Boy as I am the fact that Dallas is savvy enough, after the incident at the play emporium, to talk The Boy out of telling on him this time.

I think future playdates are going to require a lot more direct supervision. It’s not good for The Boy to think that friends are people who hit you till you cry, and obviously, it’s not ideal that Dallas acts out violently with his playmates, then talks them into covering it up. As his guardians, I thought you should know.

When we didn’t hear back all week, we didn’t mind; we had already decided to cancel the next weekend’s playdate. Then today, they finally responded, in part:

Regarding the behavior of the boys: We believe that it is important for them to work out their differences without too much supervision or intrusion as this is what happens in life and is important in their maturing. We have never had problems with Dallas being “assaulting” or “violent” no reports from the school or other play mates. And we’ve not had him reported as being “covert”

Somehow, I generated enough common sense to not write them back while angry, but I did forward their comments to The Missus and added my own remarks:

We believe that it is important for them to work out their differences without too much supervision or intrusion as this is what happens in life and is important in their maturing

This strikes me as crazy when applied to a pair of 5-year-olds, plus as I recall, their batting average at raising well-adjusted kids isn’t very fucking good. I begin to understand why.

We have never had problems with Dallas being “assaulting” or “violent” no reports from the school or other play mates
. And we’ve not had him reported as being “covert”

You suppose they never hear about their grandkid’s predations because he intimidates his victims into clamming up?

This shit pisses me off, but I’m more concerned that The Boy may be developing a personality that draws him to abusive assholes. If he is, assholes will seek him out.

The Missus suggested I talk to his preschool teacher when I went to pick him up later in the day.

Which I did. I laid it all out for her, and said, “I don’t give a damn about the other kid, but I am concerned that The Boy may be developing a victim personality.” He’s shy and relatively non-violent by nature (for a little boy), and I was afraid assholes were already beginning to target him.

She assured me that The Boy was fine, so I stopped her and said, “Look, you know what the world is like out there. There are predators and there are prey. Looking around this classroom, would you say you see warning signs in any of these kids?” I was afraid she was just telling me what I wanted to hear.

Her eyes went wide, and her voice lowered and she said, “Oh no.” Then she got even more confidential. “Dallas treats everyone that way. He’s a constant problem. Your son isn’t afraid to express displeasure or let us know when he sees something wrong going on, either with him or with another child.”

This was a great relief. We’ve worked a lot on a couple of simple ideas; one is “People are more important than things” and the other is “Evil succeeds when good people do nothing.” And he already knows all about Good and Evil from as constant a stream of superhero cartoons as he can talk us into. He can tell a Bad Guy’s entrance by his theme music! I was proud he wasn’t letting bullying happen on his watch.

Anyhow, the teacher went on to say several other complimentary things about The Boy not germane to this report, but which made me feel great. (Hint: He is not stupid—yay! It skipped a generation!)

His teacher went so far as to name another little boy in his class, one without behavioral issues, that The Boy plays with a lot, as a suitable possible replacement for his abusive former sidekick. We’ll be slipping his parents a note next week.

And as soon as that worry passed—about my son being a doormat in training—a new one took its place. Why the hell is he drawn to bad kids? I was hoping that, too, would skip a generation. Damn it!

But that is a heartache for another day. Today, at least, I feel like the Good Guys won one.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Comic Book Corner: RIP Human Torch

I usually don’t go into comic books here, but a fellow geek wrote me and asked what I thought of the “death” of the Human Torch and the storyline surrounding it. Since I took a while to compose my answer to him, I thought I’d post it here and amortize the time spent so it wouldn’t feel quite so wasted…

(Background: Marvel Comics has been ballyhooing the impending demise of an unnamed member of the Fantastic Four for some months now, and the Big Issue shipped a day early this week in an opaque plastic bag.) 

So let’s see... Well, it surprised me because the Human Torch was the obviously most expendable character, so I thought “nah, too easy.” But I was wrong. The most expendable character did indeed turn out to be the PR department’s sacrificial lamb this year. I just hope when they eventually, inevitably bring the character back, they don’t go to the same tired Journey Through The Past formula both Captain America and Batman worked last year, practically simultaneously.

I’ve loved the FF for the last couple of years. They’ve got a creative team that has really struck the right tone and a great balance between the comic-bookie and sci-fi elements, with a extra helping of the latter. Like writer Jonathan Hickman had Reed Richards get proactive and decide until of waiting to be attacked all the time, he should undertake to “solve everything.” He breaks the task down into 100 to-do bullets-points and proceeds to check them off. Sue (Reed’s wife, The Invisible Girl) has been using her powers in very cool ways and has been touted for a while now as the “most powerful” member of the FF. And writing Ben Grimm must be like falling off a log.

They’ve also introduced a daughter (or perhaps they inherited her, I don’t know) who’s five years old and a super-genius, and they’ve actually made her interesting and fun to read. 

And the art is also pitch-perfect. A kind of pseudo-realism, the FF look like people really wearing uncomfortable form-fitting blue jumpsuits, but the wild sci-fi set-pieces also jump off the page. Whoever is drawing them is so good he doesn’t draw enough attention to himself, because I really have no idea who he is other than a name in the credits, one Steve Epting.

So in my opinion, they’re fixing something that wasn’t broken, but as I said, I could give a fuck about the Torch. Plus Sue just got promoted to Queen of Atlantis in the same issue that offed her bro. Namor looks like he’s just eaten a shit sandwich.

Here’s an example of the kind of cool plotting going into this book. One storyline has Reed dealing with people from the future who have killed Galactus, inset, (in the future) and are using his body to power their time-travel machine, and then present-day Galactus gets wind of it and comes looking for the people who have killed him in the future.

Well-thought-out time paradoxes make me giddy all over.

Anyhow, I thought the death scene was handled great. Well-paced, drawn, dialogued, and by seeing it through Ben’s eyes, it provoked an emotional reaction to the death of a character the reader may not have cared about, but Ben did. Just kick-ass writing. I read the last few pages a few times.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

TV Forecast: Good and getting better

When I started working at the senior citizen newspaper after we moved from SoCal to Christmas Island in ’01, my first assignment was to photograph that week’s cover story guy. A nice, casually well-dressed older gentleman, I forget why we were featuring him… somehow talk came around to politics and his reputation for being a big-time Conservative.

I couldn’t help myself. I couldn’t not be me. I had to needle him. And he said something to me that I remember to this day. He said, “Well, Fang, in order to be a Conservative, first you gotta have something to conserve.” And I suddenly got the non-Dark Side of Conservatism. This guy had taken a lifetime to accrue himself a comfortable lifestyle and now he wanted to hang onto it.

He really opened my eyes. It suddenly made sense to me why most of my cousins—whose parents enjoyed considerably more financial success than my parents—are largely Republicans, and why two of my three sibs and I are progressives. Our cousins were brought up well-off, and being smart kids all, liked it and grew up to be adults who wanted to preserve/conserve the lifestyle to which they had become accustomed. They became Conservatives.

The lesson my sibs and I took from our parents’ relative financial misfortune was that it sucks to be the underdog, and if we ever got out of our own mess, we were gonna try to give a hand up to other people who were taking an ass-kicking from life. We became Liberals.

Back to the photo shoot: Even though I had almost nothing at the time but comic books and tour t-shirts, I could still imagine wanting to hang on to a whole bunch of cash if I happened to come into any. It would be really nice to not have to worry about lack of money-related issues all the time. I could see myself becoming quite invested in the pursuit of ridding myself of that particular stress. If it fell into my lap.

But like most people who are lazy by nature and not particularly motivated to improve my lot in life if it’s even remotely tolerable as-is, my financial affairs have never come to much of anything. I’ve just never been able to summon up the requisite interest in chasing success at the expense of, say, watching that thing I taped on HBO last night.

It reminds me of the old Steve Martin joke about how to be millionaire and never pay taxes. “First, get a million dollars…”

So, I get it. Or I used to.

But the people driving the Conservative movement these days are no longer big city deep-thinkers like my cover-model friend. They’re not even corporate droogs like the current Weeper of the House (sorry, couldn’t resist. I’ve seen firmer intestinal fortitude from Chicken Little and Henny Penny).

Nope. Right now it’s the Tea Party extremists (it’s not uncivil to call them, without hyperbole, what they are) who have the GOP in an LAPD choke hold. At the moment all is sweetness and light between the Establishment and the newly-elected Fringies in Congress; could it be because all their first efforts have been focused on pushing through pointless Tea Party agenda items like the DOA repeal of “Obamacare?”

(Man, I wish I had a better phrase for it than “Obamacare,” but I don’t. Once again, the GOP has talked circles around us. Even non-rocket scientists like Sarah Palin have us parroting her talking points verbatim. They’re setting the vernacular, which is half the battle. Somebody remind me, what is it exactly that’s supposed to make us the “Elites?”)

Back to my point... What happens when the debt-ceiling vote comes up, the otherwise pro-forma legislation the Tea Partiers happen to be so vehemently opposed to? One side has got to cave, either the long-time pols so very deeply in debt to their special-interest groups, or the idealistic new arrivals from the Tea Party; folks who are acutely aware they need the same single-cockamamie-issue constituents to vote for them again in just two years. The House doesn’t leave a legislator with much room for anything but political calculation. Any single unpopular vote they make could sink their re-election chances.

And they know how venomous the Tea Party rhetoric (and iconography) can be, it’s what brought many of them to Washington in the first place.

I predict fireworks. I predict Keith Olbermann surfacing elsewhere in time to be a very loud, if unintentionally unhelpful voice in the 2012 election. I predict Sarah Palin will surprise nobody by doing something that seems crazy till it starts to work.

And in the end, I think Obama will crush a fractured opposition. All he has to do is not fuck up and enjoy the spectacle of the competition turning on itself; when they make the inevitable movie-of-the-week about the 2012 Republican primary season, they’ll have to run it on the same network that airs “Spartacus, Blood and Sand.”

No question about it, I see good TV on the horizon.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

"Green Hornet" kicks ass, takes names

Best movie of the year so far, hands-down. I can’t remember the last time I had this much pure fun at the movies. There was no point at which I was not entertained. “Tron” had slow parts, “The Black Swan” and “True Grit,” too (all of which I also enjoyed). But this even turned exposition scenes—where characters explain the plot to other characters for the audience’s benefit—into punch lines or action scenes.

Seth Rogan played his by-now stock character—amiable party-boy shlub with better intentions than hygiene habits—and rewrote the part of the title character to suit his onscreen personna. In what seems to me like a daring move, career-wise, Rogan made himself the comic-relief sidekick to his sidekick, the amazing Jay Chou as Kato. His deadpan reactions to Rogan’s tomfoolery were as expertly executed as the action sequences. And whoever did Chou’s stunts, assuming it wasn’t him, deserves special recognition too.

Speaking of stunts and action scenes, “The Green Hornet” is jammed packed with them. But not the endless, overlong action sequences of the average Jerry Bruckheimer/Michael Bay variety—they played a trailer for “Pirates of the Caribbean 4” that felt longer than the whole main feature. Man, I guess Johnny Depp’s kids must really like his Captain Jack impression.

Plus Rogan’s character is a crusading journalist, so I was already half in the bag walking into the theater. I’m not familiar with the Green Hornet’s radio origins, but I am familiar with the ‘60s TV series of the same name, and this film more than respects the franchise’s history, it embraces it. Even the hero’s car, the venerable Black Beauty, is still a tricked-out 1965 Chrysler Imperial.

Anyhow, The Missus has had a vicious cold all week, The Boy got his first messy case of the 24-hour flu this morning and I’m trying to teach myself a new web-building program while my newspaper job withers on the vine… but for two hours in the middle of the day, I was massively entertained.

We saw it in 3D and it was fine. Even the night scenes were plenty clear enough, but it occurred to me that it would have been just as much fun in 2D. But I would definitely try to catch it in its theatrical run. I’m sure it’ll be still be great on DVD, but it packs a real wallop on the big screen, and it’s fun to laugh along with a room full of people at the film’s numerous comedy set-pieces.

Can’t wait for the sequel, but I know enough to skip the third film in the franchise, should there be one. “Lord of the Rings” and “Godfather III” aside, name me one threequel that hasn’t sucked total rump.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

I’ve got a thing about Cash

Johnny Cash, that is. Cash-money I am not as well acquainted with.

I know I’ve written about Cash before. If I tagged these damned posts properly, things would be a lot easier to find, but I’ve never been about easy…

Anyhow, my work situation is kind of shit right now, (cut from full time to part time employment a couple weeks ago), and I’ve just survived a truly miserable two-and-a-half months that started with a devilishly inconvenient nerve injury at the beginning of November which lasted through the holidays, encompassed my usual holiday PMS, then wrapped up with an ugly case of cabin fever as a result of me being off my regular schedule for so long. And in pain. And underemployed.

So much shame, so little time for self-pity...

In spite of which, I find myself today with both time on my hands—which I should be expending pursuing full-time employment, but that would be easy—and a spring in my step.

So I wanted to share.

If you click the link above, you can read all about how I came into possession of the full run of Cash’s ’69-’71 ABC-TV variety show and started posting clips to YouTube. Following are a few clips from the online collection that are among my favorites.

On his show, for every Pet Clark that was booked, Cash insisted on a Bob Dylan. For every Charlie Callas or George Gobel that was forced on him by witless network suits, he featured a Joni Mitchell or a Neil Young. Eventually, of course, the Suits prevailed, and some of the final episodes were fairly sad, desperate affairs.

But when his show was good, it was great.

The Vietnam War—and the protests against same—were in full swing during the time Cash’s show ran. Protesting our country’s wars-of-choice was about as popular with Cash’s conservative country/western base then as it is today. Savvier mainstream celebrities wouldn’t—and didn’t—touch the subject with a ten-foot-pole, but Johnny Cash was not a savvy celebrity. He performed the following song twice during his program’s brief run.

Every episode featured a thinly-disguised history lesson in the middle of the show, a segment called “Ride This Train,” where Cash worked both his love of trains and the common man into a compelling narrative on a weekly basis. I picked the one below because it contains one of my favorite Johnny Cash deep-cuts, “The Whirl and The Suck.”

This next one reveals a seldom-seen side of Cash, where he invites his mother to accompany him on piano on a gospel number they sang and played together when he was a boy.

The next clip, featuring Shel Silverstein’s “Boy Named Sue” as well as Cash’s own composition, “Flesh and Blood,” is from one of his last shows, a themed episode that was taped before an audience of college-aged kids. The first part was released on an official “Best-Of” collection a couple years ago, but the second song was omitted. Which is a crying shame, because watching him perform these songs back-to-back, without a break, provides an invaluable insight into the range of the man as a musician, a performer and a human being.

Finally, because I only meant for this to take a couple minutes and it’s already eaten up most of my morning, I’m throwing in one of my favorite guest shots, one that no doubt gave the Suits apoplexy: Peace-hugging pinko and Communist subversive Pete Seeger. Any further introduction would be superfluous.

Man, that was awesome. I could watch that clip forever. Next time I get a hankerin’, I’ll post a few clips of some of the show’s best guest appearances.

I’ll close with this. Everybody who’s seen “I Walk The Line” thinks they know all about Cash’s drug problems. No offense to the actor who played him in the film, but he barely scratched the surface. This final clip is from an appearance Cash—and future spouse, June Carter—made on Seeger’s (PBS? cable-access?) TV show in the full flower of Cash’s addiction. It is not pretty, but it is powerful and necessary viewing. It drives home the point that when Johnny Cash sang about sin and redemption, which he did for his entire career, he was testifying, not speculating.

Good To Know: The Boy Has My Six

The other day, The Boy and I were rough-housing and he clocked my nose a good one.

I cautioned him that we had to be careful of Daddy’s nose because it’s already been broken once and I wouldn’t care to have that happen again.

I didn’t tell him all the ugly details, just that Daddy got into a fight as a kid that ended up with me in the E.R. with a broken nose. I told him in real-life, fights were not as much fun as superhero fights on TV. In real-life, when somebody hits you, it hurts, and usually, bones get broken and blood flows freely.

He indicated he understood the difference between cartoon slug-fests and the real deal, but still looked concerned. I asked him what else was on his mind.

He looked at me sadly and said, “I should have been there because I know Tae Kwon Do.”

Thursday, January 13, 2011

How To Melt A Black Heart (in one easy step)

Gotta share a groovy parenting moment. Yesterday I kept The Boy home from preschool; The Missus is out of town and what remains of my job takes all my attention on Wednesdays. Wasn’t sure how/when I’d be able to pick him up from Child Care if he went in, so he stayed home instead.

He was extra good all day. Whenever I could get out from behind the computer we found quick things we could do together, but most of the day, he was consigned to play by himself.

I totally felt like I had let down the ball, parenting-wise. I comforted myself in the knowledge that had The Boy been born 100 years ago, he probably wouldn’t even know what his Daddy looked like yet, I’d be so uninvolved in the child-rearing; moreover, he’d likely already have a job at some mill or in the neighbor’s fields for pennies a day.

He’s got it good; great, you hear?!

No getting around it, I was fucking up the parenting thing. No amount of fast-talking was going to convince me otherwise.

Then late in the afternoon, right when my job responsibilities were hitting critical mass, he walks into my office and gives me a hug. Then he tells me, haltingly, struggling to find the words to communicate the fairly complicated concept that he wished he and I could be kids together at the same time, so we could be friends.

I was unprepared for this, especially considering that at home, I am The Right Hand Of God. When The Missus can’t get him to comply with some instruction, all she has to do is say, “Do you want me to have to call Daddy?” to get him back in line, and I’ve never raised a hand to the kid! He definitely sees me as the authority figure around these parts, in spite of which, he plain likes me enough to wish we could be kids and grow up together.

What could I do? I turned away from the computer monitor, looked him in the eye and told him the truth: Me, too!

Sunday, January 09, 2011

A modest proposal: A Conspiracy of Silence

When I first heard about the latest violent outrage, the at-this-writing attempted assassination of Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in Tucson, Arizona, that took the lives of six innocent Americans, including a federal judge and a 9-year-old girl (according to reports, born on 9/11), I’m ashamed to admit my first thought was, “I’ll bet the Congressperson was a Democrat.” Sure enough.

Just as predictably, the red vs blue finger-pointing and speculation began immediately in the mediasphere. My friend The Last Boy Scout weighed in with his disappointment that it looked like the pundits and PACs were already trying to make political hay out of this tragedy.

I told him that assuming the shooter was a right-winger was a natural conclusion given that the intended victim was a Democrat—usually your own people don’t try to gun you down—and her office had already been repeatedly vandalized since “ObamaCare” passed, reportedly by miscreants claiming Tea Party affiliation.

If the victim had been a Republican politician in an exceptionally politically volatile Democratic state, my first thought would have been, “Shit, the shooter was probably a nutjob Democrat!”

The same way when a person is killed, the cops always take a good, hard look first at their significant other; some leapt-to conclusions, like some stereotypes, have a basis in precedent.

That having been said, I agree with my friend in principle. This was more about crazy than politics. With that much collateral damage, it had to have been. The killer might as well have been an al-Quaeda terrorist.

But still, in the face of this kind of tragedy, it is human nature to want to assess responsibility, if only to try to prevent something similar from happening again.

Besides the shooter, I blame the increasingly giddy, irresponsible mainstream media for deliberately fostering an “Anything Goes” ethos among its fan-base. Because they’ve been so successful at it, everybody’s trying to outFox Fox News these days, and this is the result: High-profile hatemongers of every prejudice and agenda with bully pulpits and dedicated, unthinking throngs who hang on their every utterance. Bad decision-making is bound to proceed.

Plus, and more to the point, we may not have more homicidal nutjobs now than we ever did, but TV and the internet are making overnight stars of them and don’t think the next nutjob isn’t noticing.

This is the part I’ve said before:

I think all responsible broadcasters should get together—of their own accord—and conspire to never to let the name, or any personal information, of assassins or attempted assassins pass their lips or appear in their publications ever again. Take away the spotlight and you take away a lot of the motivation. Most of these idiots leave notes behind, elucidating how much they’re looking forward to their names becoming household words after their atrocities.

Really. We can’t disarm America, nor can we fix crazy, but we can make the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow a little less enticing for the next homicidal loser with a grudge and wet dreams of fame and glory. Put them down on the scene if they don’t have the courtesy to do it themselves, then bury them without ceremony in a potter’s grave.

And name some buildings and streets after the victims, because they are the ones whose lives are worth celebrating and names are worth remembering.


My friend dropped me a line privately, pointing out that in the communications paradigm of the 21st-century, it wouldn’t mean a damn thing if the MSM did get together and decide to comport themselves with dignity and decency, some Wikileaks bastard would put it out there and 10 million bloggers—except me—and tweeters would make sure the next killer got his 15 minutes of infamy anyhow.

Fuck a duck, man. I don’t have an answer other than I don’t think we’re gonna make it as a species. We were a fine idea on paper, but something somewhere in the execution got fucked up and we discovered that being awful to each other was a lot more exciting—it certainly makes better headlines!—than being humane. There’s a reason the most sought-after girls are always drawn to the Bad Boys—it’s human nature in a nutshell.

Cue orchestra, drop the curtain...

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Making a Better America, One Child At A Time

My friend The Lifetime Member was complaining about Facebook the other day. He can’t stand it when friends of his—people he used to respect!—post gushy, sentimental shit about their kids. [Note: My FB friends don’t go in for that sort of thing, but apparently some of his do.] It just rubs him the wrong way in a big way.

I agreed that that kind of emotional bloodletting was more appropriately blogged about, or discussed with one’s therapist if discussed at all. I mean Facebook updates itself constantly, bringing all manner of unsolicted content to your attention all the time, occasionally including the kind of mundane and/or intimate revelations my friend has no use for.  Blogs, on the other hand, must be sought out. They do not show up, unasked for, like old friends’ latest romantic travails or extensive philosophical ruminations do on Facebook. Blogs, I argued, are an ideal forum for gushing.

He disagreed, taking the opinion that there is no room for that kind of conversation anywhere, any time. It’s plain undignified, bragging to the world at large about your parenting accomplishments.

I wonder how he feels about parenting defeats?

In spite of my best efforts, The Boy has become addicted to cell phone video games. Me, I don’t have any such nonsense on my phone or any of my computers. With my addictive personality, I’d slip down the bunny hole in no time and never get another non-essential thing accomplished for the rest of my life.

It’s beginning to look like The Boy is going to fulfill the diagnosis I made for myself.

Thus the Cat-5 tantrum tonight when he was denied access to said video game come bedtime. (After the storm, The Missus went to great pains to explain to me the game’s overall coolness and relative educational value, but to me, a video game is a video game. Even when you call it a “science game” and give the 5-year-old a talking point I would have been better off if he’d been without.)

Anyway, the first big explosion of the video game era came tonight. I’m not sure what the run-up was, but the result was The Missus turned her phone off before The Boy was ready to stop playing and he went ballistic. Much more so than I’ve seen and heard him for quite a while.

After a minute I figured out the situation wasn’t going to resolve itself and dragged myself up off my ass and lumbered into The Missus’ office. There she was, trying to use logic and common sense on the red-faced howling banshee. She gladly accepted my offer to give it a try.

The first thing that happened was that he tried to turn her phone back on, right there as I sat hunkered down, looking him in the eye. Clearly testing his limits, perhaps forgetting the fact that although it was Mommy’s phone that started this fracas, once I became involved, it was now all about satisfying my needs.

And what I needed was for him to settle down, so I immediately accelerated the situation by disconnecting the phone in question and pocketing it, telling him bluntly that he was done playing with it for the night. No preamble, no negotiation, just pure unilateral action.

As expected, he went immediately to Defcon One. His screams were directed point-blank at my face, so loud I was worried that he would hurt his throat—at one point, I made him stop and take a swallow between screams for that very reason—his little fists clenched at his sides, still having it together enough to remember that striking Daddy draws immediate and very undesirable consequences. He leaned in and shrieked, “NOOOO!!!” at me, so close our faces were only inches apart. He was red as a ripe rutabaga and the tears flowed copiously.

I remained impassive, neither resisting him nor ignoring his resolve. I talked to him in a low voice between screams, pausing so as to not interrupt any of the individual banshee wails. Eventually I just clammed up and just let him run out of steam. I never stopped looking him in his eyes—I knew exactly how he felt, and was happy to let him blow off steam without the kind of repercussions I would have drawn if I had done the same as a kid.

The looking in the eyes thing usually works, and this time proved no exception. All unhappy kids want is to know you really, actually notice them and their needs. And when they’re screaming too loud for a verbal reassurance to be effective, a good empathetic, unwavering eye-lock usually does the trick.

When the yelling petered out, we went back into my office, which is always warmer and more poorly-lit than any other room of the house. A good setting for a calm, reasoned conversation. I loaded him up into my easy chair and sat on the floor, facing him. We had another, quieter, more articulate talk about anger and courtesy and all that stuff, the absence of which, I explained to him, had always made my life harder than it had to be for longer than it had to be.

(I make an awesome cautionary tale, and will no doubt continue to do so for years to come; I have cautionary tales for almost every circumstance.)

I packed him off to bed about ten minutes later a happy camper, the cell-phone video game completely forgotten (which fact I know because when his mother brought it up as she was tucking him in, he had to be reminded what she was talking about).

Sorry, Lifetime Member, I just love being a Dad. And I’ll bet you do, too, you cranky old curmudgeon, you! You named your son after your favorite make of rifle, after all—if that’s not love, nothing is!

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Putting the “Happy” into the New Year: