Category Archives: Fathers and Sons

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A funny thing happened on my way to Father’s Day 2017.

I became a grandfather thanks to my stepson and his wife.

The thing about becoming a grandfather is that it brings you sharply back to when you were a first-time parent.

That moment is filled with an overpowering brew of emotions, among them anticipation, hope, fear and pride.

I recall well holding my first son 24 years ago, bringing him to the window of the hospital suite and telling him about the trees and the clouds in the sky.

But from the moment you take your newborn in your arms, you are destined to screw things up.

You’re human, so you’re fallible and flawed. That your parenting will be less than perfect is inevitable.

But here’s the thing: No one tells you that as you begin your journey as a dad.

You start out in a state of high expectations.

You think you are going to be the embodiment of all the best TV  fathers — some combination of Andy Taylor (“The Andy Griffith Show”), Ward Cleaver (“Father Knows Best”) and Howard Cunningham (“Happy Days”).

And then expectations meet reality: As a parent, you can feel sapped of time, energy and money, which can bring on guilt, doubts and feelings of inadequacy.

Am I doing a good job? Do I spend enough time with my kids? Are they socially engaged with others? Do I do enough to stimulate their curiosity? Am I setting a good example?

This is especially reinforced when you start comparing yourself to other dads.

“Well look at him,” you think. “He’s a soccer coach and Boy Scout volunteer and he takes his son camping and and and…”

It becomes a vicious cycle: The more doubtful or guilty you feel, the greater the sense of inadequacy. And so it goes to the point where you feel farther and farther away from the parenting utopia you think you should reach.

I can’t speak for all dads, but I know to this day I harbor so many wouldas, shouldas, couldas about raising my sons.

I look back and think I should have given more of my time but I either was too busy with work, not getting enough sleep or feeling the strain of my first marriage disintegrating.

So, like with everything else in life, you do the best you can. You fall down, get up and put one foot in front of the other.

And do you make mistakes – some of them awful and regretful? Yes. Yes you do.

But here’s the thing, despite your shortcomings and through some combination of grace, luck and gargantuan support from family (in my case, my second wife), things turn out well.

My “boys,” who just turned 24 and 19, are well regarded by others and valued at their jobs. They’re funny and caring and hard-working.

Sure, they have hang-ups and flaws — would it kill them to take out the garbage? — but they have grown into impressive young men.

So on this Father’s Day, hats off to dads everywhere.

You might not be perfect but if you’ve worked hard and tried your best, chances are the kids are all right.

Related content:

The World According to My Dad

On Father’s Day, Recalling a Son Growing Up

A Father’s Day Poem

The World According to My Dad

For Father’s Day, I thought I would share some of my father’s sayings and pearls of wisdom.

As the oldest child, I have been exposed to these the longest of my siblings and thus they are part of my DNA.

What follows is a blend of Borscht Belt kitsch and Old World philosophy.

Think of it as the World According to My Dad.

About his mental health:

I’m not well you know.

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Bad jokes:

You know why electricity is cheaper in Lower Manhattan? It’s near the Battery.

When I die, there will be a sign outside our building and do you know what that sign will say? Apartment for rent!

I got called for a Charles Atlas ad. They want me to be the model for the “before” look.

You heard about the couple that planned to elope? The girl called it off at the last minute. You know how the guy knew? She threw a cantaloupe out the window.

If I go bald, I’ll just comb my eyebrows back.

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How can you tell the bride is pregnant at a wedding? The guests throw puffed rice.

(My mom emigrated from Germany in the 1960s): Winnie was sent here by her government to marry the smartest man in America. She failed in her mission.

I’m going bald because my brains are making my head grow.

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You look good. Who’s your undertaker?

How tall are you? Wow, I didn’t know they piled shit that high!

Italian 

Con la rosa arriva le spine. (With the rose comes the thorns.)

Basta! (Enough!)

Don’t be a scooch! (Pest/pain in the butt.)

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Ah, bah-fungoo!

It was really skeevatz. (Disgusting)

Stop being a gavone! (A pig/someone who is greedy about food.)

About food:

Are you going to eat that?

Are you going to finish that?

Let me just have a little taste.

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If you go home hungry, it’s your own fault. (Said after hosting a big holiday spread of food.)

Let me taste it first to make sure it’s not poison.

It would be a sin to let that go to waste.

What did you have to eat?

Just a touch…Whoa! That’s good.

Discipline:

(After giving me a smack in the head): That was for nothing. Imagine if you did something!

Reliving his Navy days:

Attention on deck!

All hands on deck.

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Philosophy:

I want you to have a clean living: No cigarettes, no booze and no women: It’s clean, but is it living?

The older I get, the less use I have for people.

You know what they say about marriage: The first 30 years are the roughest.

Tomorrow is another day.

Rome was not built in a day.

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You’re my favorite horse even if you’ve never won a race.

I like to keep a low-profile — by remaining horizontal.

What sins did you commit that you have to work here?

Remember, always shoot for 200 percent, this way if you fall 100 short, you will still have a hundred.

Getting old sucks. I don’t recommend it.

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My all-time favorite Christmas morning photo of my old man and one of my sisters, Lorraine.

Working in a job you don’t like is like taking sandpaper to your soul.

You know if I were not this crazy, your life would be boring.

And finally…

I’m proud of you buddy. Keep up the good work. Love you.

dad 6 dad3

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On Being a Dad and Facing an Empty Nest

There is a memorable story told about my late fiancée and her son that goes like this:

Garth was in his 20s and headed out for a night on the town.

He was primping himself in front of a mirror.

His mother, (my late fiancée), Carla said something to him and he cracked wise or sarcastic.

She came up behind him and smacked him in the back of the head — even though he had about five inches on her.

Garth wheeled around and angrily asked: “Whatdidja do that for?!”

Her reply?

“You will never be too old or too big that I’m not your mother!”

It remains a memorable story because it speaks to Carla’s spirit (let’s just say she did not take guff from anyone) but it also embodies an important lesson I am learning as a dad who will soon face an empty nest.

Our younger son is a high school senior and will be in college by the late summer.

He has his own car, a wide circle of friends and is active in numerous extracurricular activities.

Translation: My wife and I don’t see too much of him. When we do, we try to make the most of the time together.

Our older son graduated from college in the spring, landed a job 10 days before graduation and has been on his own and out of state since last July.

The days of us having to hand-hold or ferry “the boys” around to different school events or social engagements are over.

And in many ways, at least right now, I miss that.

As a dad, being there for them and being the one who looked out for them day-to-day was my raison d’être.

The core missions of looking out for the lads’ well-being, care, feeding and upbringing defined my role as a parent for two decades.

Now, suddenly — poof!

It feels as if I am wearing a pair of those “beer goggles” they give kids in driver’s education to mimic the feel of drunken driving: My view of reality has been twisted and distorted.

So it came as something of a relief (and a sense of still being needed) when No. 1 son recently called and emailed about a low-level emergency after being locked out of his first apartment.

Much to his credit, he was collected and clear-headed and was merely looking for some advice about navigating the situation with his landlord. (It turned out that the lock was installed incorrectly and malfunctioned.)

I recall once when I was standing on line at a supermarket with the boys when they were about 12 and 7.

A veteran parent ahead of me struck up a conversation.

I recall well what she said: “The older kids get, the more complicated and more expensive the problems become.”

Yes, that is certainly true.

But what I’m also learning is that they’ll never get too old or too big that I’ll ever stop being their dad.

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Showing Dad Admiration and Respect Through Soccer

Respect: Of the many who demand it, few get it and even fewer deserve it.

I truly believe that respect is earned wordlessly, silently, almost imperceptibly through action.

I recall a certain event with my Dad that exemplifies this notion. It happened as I was entering my rebellious years. I was 14.

I held high respect for Dad from very early on. But once a boy becomes a teenager, he may show disrespect toward the very towering figures he put on a pedestal for so long.

Allow me to explain.

My love and devotion for the game of soccer is ingrained in me just from having been born in Argentine lands.

The very air in the country, heavily laden with the perspiration of countless players and games, practically infects all newborn boys with the fever of soccer.

How it grows and develops in an Argentine child comes from the father and then through endless street, sandlot and neighborhood games, moving toward more structured Futból leagues with his peers as he grows.

Having moved with my family to the Bronx as a toddler, an element of that soccer growth was interrupted. In the early ’60s, youth soccer was not as popular as it is now. My father, who in Argentina played at the professional level, continued in some adult leagues that played in Van Courtland and Flushing Meadow Parks.

But for me, chasing la redonda (the round one) in New York became strictly a father-son thing.

As I got older, Dad encouraged me to pick up the ball with my hands, and slowly but surely, a soccer goalkeeper was developing. He told me that since I did not grow up with the opportunity to play potrero (sandlot) soccer, that I should work to become a goalkeeper.

After-school trips to the park were a daily occurrence.

Since available soccer goalposts were a rarity, we would set up a couple of markers to serve as goalposts in front of a fence or wall with grass leading up to it and kick away — me crouching and diving, Dad stopping to give me pointers, explaining the art of the keeper and tirelessly kicking soccer balls.

It was heaven.

Summers, fall and spring, the training continued.

As I got a little older, the feeling of “I know more than you” started to also develop.

One day we went to Pelham Bay Park for our goalkeeper training.

At this session I made the mistake of thinking I could show my Dad up. I thought that not only was I the best, but that I was going to show him in a very flashy way.

How? In my case, by making stops while moving half-heartedly toward the ball, by chicken-winging my arm and knocking out the kicked ball with my elbow, by staying upright and turning my back to the ball and heel-kicking it back.

What I forgot was that the man in front of me was once a professional soccer player and I had never experienced a true soccer shot.

I quickly found out that he had always pulled his punches.

And I found out most loudly.

The next few shots came in a blur.

I remember getting a hand on a few, and how they hurt. The ones I could not stop, because they came at me as if fired from a howitzer, hit that wall behind me with a stupendous BANG!

They hit off that wall so hard that they went right back to Dad without my intervention and he readied himself for the next shot.

At one point the volley stopped and he walked to me. He calmly asked if we were done.

He seemed 10 feet tall again. He never directly addressed the barrage, never mentioned my display of disrespect.

We probably talked about soccer the way we always did on the way back home.

But in that one loud, wordless moment, he got back that respect that I vainly attempted to take away.

On Father’s Day, Recalling a Son Growing Up

Maybe it’s because I’ve been a newsman my entire adult life and I’m a chronicler of life events.

It might explain how I had the presence of mind to write down things my oldest son said and did as he was growing up that were cute, memorable or funny.

The first entry dates to when he was 3 ½ years old and continued until he was about 6 years old.

So for Father’s Day, indulge this old man by letting him share with you a sample of memorable “Michaelisms.”

Happy Father’s Day!

***

December 1996: Michael soaked Daddy while taking a bath. Daddy was not amused and said:

“Michael, I’m not laughing.”

“But I am,” said Michael.

***

December 1996: Michael came home with a Jewish star he made in school. It was hanging on the Christmas tree when Daddy got home from work.

“Oh,” said Daddy, “you made a Star of David.”

“No Daddy, it’s mine,” said Michael.

***

January 1997: Michael for breakfast has taken to eating chocolate-covered granola bars. He calls them “gorilla bars.”

***

January 1997: Michael and Daddy are heading into school. Daddy greets another parent good morning in the lobby. Michael turns to Daddy and says: “You can’t talk to strangers like that.”

***

Summer 1997: Michael says that heaven is in Disney World.

***

November 1997: Michael refers to nostrils as “smeller holes.” And told to put away his toys, he announced: “Let’s take a vote!”

***

January 1998: Michael goes to Daddy’s doctor with Daddy because Daddy is sick. Michael wants to know if grown-ups are good at the doctor’s, do they get stickers?

***

January 1998:  Michael tells Daddy that he has had the same dream two nights in a row. But forgetful Daddy cannot recall what Michael had told him. (Michael had described the dream in Technicolor detail the day before but Daddy did not retain it.)

Michael says: “Daddy, your brain works slow. My brain works fast.”

He then put his hand to his forehead and then put the same hand to Daddy’s head.

With that gesture, Michael says: “Here, Dad, have some of my fast brains.”

***

July 1998: Michaels asks who Dino is. Dino? What do you mean? Michael says: “You know – someone’s in the kitchen with Dino…”

***

October 1998: Michael tells his babysitter that he watched the Fourth of July fireworks (“America’s birthday”) on TV because he couldn’t look out his window to see America because it was too far away.

***

August 1999: Michael spots the club Daddy keeps under the bed in case of intruders. Michael wants to know what it’s for.

Daddy tells him if there is anyone who comes to the house who doesn’t belong there, Daddy will greet them with this.

Wisely, Michael asks: “Why would you greet them if they don’t belong here?!”

***

June 2015: Michael turns 22, and, having just graduated from college, is about to begin his professional career at a job eight hours and five states away from home.

Daddy will miss him.

mike grad

 

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A Father’s Day Poem

A Father, a Son
(for Jackson)

I — an atomic collection culled from a universe of green stamps and cathode ray tubes
— stay.

You — atoms collected from a different universe of ration books and radios — go first.

Before me, you were.
Because of you, I am.

You made me, a son.
And I made you a father, but
who is this ladder I must climb?
A Priam, who could only love out loud when his son, Hector, died?Joseph of Bethlehem, who had no son of his own?
Maybe Luke’s father, a cripple who believed he should cripple his son?
Or Calvin T. Underwood, whose son would become president and piss on his gravestone?

Some fathers are like that.
And sons?
How few are as lucky Telemachus, whose father chooses him to fight for the honor of their house?
Is this the secret that we share? To weave our love through time and longing? To be, at last, chosen?
Are all fathers like Odysseus to young hungry sons? Absent and traveling?
Never home, homeward bound?

But in this telling, we are the travelers:
hurtling through time
urgent as spring cataracts
slamming the rock.

Fathers and sons must travel great distances to meet as equals —
it is our great romance.
But the ladder is a lie:
The boy becomes a man as the man grows old.

In some long-forgotten sedimentary layer of myself, a cast-off chrysalis, you were the world I crawled, toddled and ran to.
You were the man whose long strides I stretched to match.

The women have their fairy tales of handsome princes.
We have heroes: G.I. Joe, Batman and you —

gone again
to test the water in the tub.

 

Meg McGuire is the wife of AMR contributor Christopher Mele.

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My Son Blocks Me on Twitter…The Indignity!

A scene at the end of an episode of “Modern Family” has the character Claire (the mother of three) complaining that the kids unfriended her again on Facebook and how then is she supposed to know what is going on in the kids’ lives?

It crystallized for me something I have experienced with my sons: The oldest used to be pretty active on Facebook but has all but disappeared (he is away at college) and the youngest (soon to be 17), blocks me on Twitter!

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When I asked about this recently, he emailed me to say that “I block with love, padre.”

It makes me awfully split-brained, with the conversation going something like this:

Rational Me: What do you expect? He is almost 17. When you were almost 17, would you have wanted to share your remarks with friends with your dad?

Emotional Me: No, of course not. But I am a cool dad. I understand social media and it’s not like I would stalk every tweet he posted.

Rational Me: Really?! I find that hard to believe…

Emotional Me: OK, well maybe I would look at every other one…Besides, it is another indication of how he is coming into his own and becoming his own person.

Rational Me: Yeah, dummy. You are the one always preaching that parenthood is about giving kids roots and wings.

Emotional Me: Oh yeah. Right.

What is your relationship like with your kids vis a vis social media?

Are you friends with them? Do you follow them on Twitter or Instagram? Or do they block out you in the virtual world as much they do in the real world?

Write us at amr@amrshow.com and share your story…assuming you have not blocked us on social media.

From Boys to Men

On my cellphone, under contacts, is a listing labeled “boys.”

The contact is an artifact of 10 years ago when my sons got a cellphone for emergencies. It was a flip phone that they shared since they both went to the same school.

Then they were ages 12 and 7.

boys

Today, of course, they are each outfitted with their own smartphones, in which they tweet, text, Facebook, Skype and engage in all manner of communications.

I have kept the entry “boys” as my contact for my oldest son even though it is hopelessly out of date.

He is no longer a boy but a young man on the cusp of graduating college and embarking on a career and life that will involve less and less of me and my wife.

Up to about five years ago, I felt that time was accelerating like a sled going down a steep hill but that time for my sons was moving at a languid pace.

Now, the pages in the chapters of their lives are flipping forward furiously like what you see in the opening credits of “Masterpiece Theater.” And the pace of my life suddenly feels like a leisurely thumbing through the pages of the newspaper.

In the second to last episode of this season’s “Downton Abbey,” Mary, the oldest daughter, remarks on the sweeping  changes taking place in the household.

Though Mary was commenting on a fictional setting, she might well have been talking about real life.

In the early years, your role as a dad is defined around the waking hours of your kids: Breakfast, school, after school, dinner, bedtime, leisure time, weekend trips, time spent visiting with family, etc.

And then, one day, you discover that managing those activities has been taken away from you. Your kids have become self-actualized.

For me, the change is marked by the morning ritual of getting them to the school bus stop.

Ten years ago, when we first moved to our house and a new school district, I stood and waited with them for the bus.

Then it became just bringing them to the stop, minus waiting for the bus.

Then it became them piling out of the car, saying so long to me and me driving off.

And now? The oldest is at college and the youngest, a high school junior, is driving himself to school — in his own car.

The transition from needed dad to dad as optional accessory has left me feeling bereft. In the vacuum that has been created, what’s next?

That uncertainty is scary because now I have more time (and psychic space) to find out more about myself and who I am supposed to be in this next phase of my life.

My wife described it as parenting as planned obsolescence.

If you do your job right, you are no longer strictly defined as being a dad, although, of course, you still hold that title no matter how old your kids get. It’s just that how the role is defined is dramatically different.

Perhaps in recognition of this, the first thing I should do is change the entry on my phone contacts from “boys” to “men.”

Radio Shack: Real Family Fun

I was saddened to hear the news that Radio Shack was closing many of  its doors.

My first love with all things electrical began at Radio Shack.

When I was a boy, my dad and I would walk from the Castle Hill projects to the Korvette shopping mall and stop by Radio Shack.

He would get a little AM transistor radio that came with its very own white ear bud. Mind you, these were not like the ear buds of today, but something about the size of a broccoli spear.

Well, at home I would always have a few broken radios that I would take apart and try to glean how they worked.

Things really came together when I also had a pair of walkie-talkies.

I also discovered that if I used some wire attached to the antennae and fastened it to the riser pipe in my bedroom, I could tune into conversations farther away than most.

The transmitter was still weak, so I wasn’t able to communicate with anyone, but I am sure that I’ve said a few “rogers” and “over and outs” to the people on the other line that probably didn’t hear me.

Although one time I do recall having a conversation with someone from JFK, but it was probably just my imagination.

rsh

One Christmas, my brother Francis got a V8 engine which consisted of over 1,000  plastic pieces and metal pieces.

When it was finished, it had the power to push a small go-cart. Since I was the youngest and lightest, I got a chance to test it out.

Over the years, I continued purchasing the little kits where you could make an alarm or shortwave radio.

I still have a zip-zap car in its original box from about 15 years ago.

It is my reminder of the good old days of model car racing. We used to get parts from Radio Shack in order to build the HO Slot cars.

Those were a lot of fun times with my dad and brothers. Real family fun.

 

Sled. Gloves. Boots. Condoms. …Condoms?!

I discovered a connection between the snow on my rooftop (the white hair, not dandruff, thank you) and the blizzard swirling outside.

Here it is:

Upon learning that school would be closed, our youngest, a high school junior, was soon coming upstairs to announce that he would be spending time playing with friends in the snow.

Good, clean, outdoor fun. Yea! Great!

But when we started to explore what time he would be home and how he would get home in a raging snowstorm, plans suddenly shifted.

He was back upstairs a short time later to announce that he would be staying overnight at the house of his friend, who happens to be a girl.

And who else will be staying there, I asked, my eyebrows arching.

Oh, so-and-so, he says, naming yet another girl.

And what will be the sleeping arrangements, I ask, my eyebrows now arching in a way that would make McDonald’s envious.

Let me pause here to say that my son is an extraordinarily responsible young adult, sociable, outgoing and an excellent student. And the girls he named are likewise.

They are just a tremendous bunch of kids that any parent would be proud of.

It’s just that when it comes to his old man, my son is such a rotten kid.

Presented with the opportunity to bust my stones, he will seize it with a grip worthy of Darth Vader.

So my inquiry about the sleeping arrangements was an engraved invitation to turn my already white hair even more white.

And then, have it fall out completely.

“Oh,” he says, a big grin breaking out, “we’re all going to sleep together. There will be sex. There will be so much sex, the house will be coming apart.”

My ever-so-helpful wife (not one to let a moment like this slip by) chimed in: “They will be humping like rabbits.”

Me: “I hate you both.”

My son: “Oh yeah, no worries. I’ll be coming home with two pregnant girls.”

My wife: “Just don’t come home with herpes.”

At this point, it was hard to hear anything because I had gone face-first, up to my ears, into my bowl of oatmeal.

Then, as he’s preparing to leave and we’re going through the checklist of things that he should make sure he has for his stay, he calls out as he’s walking down the stairs:

“Hey Dad, how many condoms do you think I should bring?!”

That’s when I went bald.

Rotten kid.

I cannot imagine where he gets it from.

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A Grandfather’s Blessing

Christmas is here, and I remember when I was a young kid and celebrating this joyous holiday with my family, having a ball hanging with so many cousins, aunts and uncles, and my grandparents.

Christmas Eve was the night when all of my Mom’s family would gather to celebrate.

She was one of seven children, five sisters and two brothers, and with their respective kids, other relatives, friends and my grandparents, they filled my grandparents’ apartment with two to three dozen people.

It was loud and hot, and the smell of all the food was great, but the most important thing to the kids back then was the mountain of gifts that was stacked up all over the place, divided by family.

My grandfather would then get everyone’s attention and give his blessing to the family, giving thanks for our health and for being together as one family.  I’ll always remember his deep and powerful voice that exclaimed his love and pride for everyone there.

Then he would hand over the ceremonies to one of the uncles or older cousins to announce and distribute the gifts to one family at a time.  They would read the tags and we would cheer and carry on with love and good humor.  The best, of course, was that the young kids would always be first and receive a gift that was a toy.

Oh the joy of Christmas!