Did you notice, back a couple decades ago, when all the dads in sitcoms suddenly became doofuses? Stumbling and bumbling their way through life waiting for mom to get them out of a jam. Mom holds the household together, keeps the kids clean and fed and on time for school, juggles work with home life while dad swills beer in the backyard over the grill burning the burgers while talking about the Mets with his similarly dimwitted neighbor over the fence. Father definitely doesn’t know best anymore. On TV and in glossy magazine ads, moms are all about kittens, clean counters, sweet smelling sheets and tending the garden. Dads are about beer, pizza and Doritos. And, at Christmastime, redemption comes with a perfect snowy house. With a perfect snowy driveway, and a perfect luxury sedan wrapped in a red bow. For mom. Yup, that’s what we dads do every December. It’s on TV every year, so it’s got to be true, right? The rest of the time, we’re mostly just in the way of a smooth, sparkly and pet hair-free home unit, with a warm bath, scented candles and a glass of Chablis for mom at the end of a hard day’s work, while dad is still in the garage trying to figure out how to change the spark plugs on the lawn mower.
No worries, mom will take care of it in the morning. Moms are sold foundations and fragrances and shades of soft color schemes, flattering underwear, soft sheets, sleek workout gear and pet food. Men are sold light beers, nose hair trimmers, testosterone pills and cures for erectile dysfunction and muscle loss.
It’s June now. What’s one of first things that comes to mind? Father’s Day? Not likely. Whereas in May, Mother’s Day is inescapable. We just had May. It’s a whole month to celebrate super moms. She sweeps, she mops, she scrubs, she toils, she takes the kids to the pool and the doctor, milks the cows, scratches the cats, takes the kids for sno-balls, (changes the spark plugs), fixes the glitches on the laptop, calls the repairman when needed and generally looms large over hearth and home. Dad? He cuts the grass (sometimes), hangs his belly over the grill on Sunday nights but mostly he whittles. And he’s not a very good whittler. That’s June. In May, there are two full aisles of Mother’s Day cards at Walgreen’s. In June, there’s a meager arrangement of a dozen or so Father’s Day cards that say stuff like: “You’re the best dad,” or “You’re a pretty good dad and thanks for that.” Did you ever see a Hallmark movie about amazing dads? Case in point. Ads for Bounty and timeless diamonds abound. (As opposed to temporary diamonds?) Is there such a thing as a timeless necktie? I play in a Sunday morning baseball league. But no games were scheduled for Mother’s Day this year. Because...Mother’s Day. And presumably so we can serve them breakfast in bed for all the toils of world they suffer. On Father’s Day, our game is scheduled as usual this season. We get no respect. I like breakfast in bed as much as the next guy. Fathers of the world, unite.
Do I sound bitter? Don’t get me wrong. I love moms just as much as Kay Jewelers does. But we should be recognized too – particularly here in New Orleans – for the unsung heroics and challenges we face that are not necessarily universal to all American dads. In New Orleans, being a father means coaching your kids’ sports teams, even if you don’t know all the rules to the particular game, but just so nobody else does. In New Orleans, being a father means teaching your kids how to drive a car when they’re 14, before somebody else does. In New Orleans, being a father means bringing your 14-year-old kid into the neighborhood bar and giving him or her their first drink – before somebody else does. In New Orleans, being a father means trying to convince your kids that accordions are cool. Being a father in New Orleans means telling your kids that, no, those aren’t real pirates walking around in the French Quarter all day and all night. They’re actors. It’s their job, to dress like chimney sweeps with top hats and walking sticks telling fables to tourists. No, there are no ghosts in that window. It’s a reflection. These pirates, they’re playing a role and filling a niche. It’s an industry here. People come here from all over the world to be lied to. Maybe one day, son, you can grow up to be a pirate! Not many openings in Arizona, but plenty here at home. Being a dad in New Orleans means stocking a cooler full of beer for your kid’s second birthday party. Otherwise, who’s going to come? Being a dad in New Orleans means learning how to change one kid’s diaper in a Port-O-Let while feeding another with a bottle. And then going home and telling mom that everything went swimmingly. No cuts, no bruises. No harm, no foul. In New Orleans, being a father means explaining to your kids why you have more dresses in your closet than suits. A red dress for the Red Dress Run, get-ups for MOMs Ball, masquerade golf tournaments and for those occasional Mardi Gras where you didn’t prep a proper costume in time. It just is what it is. Men in dresses. New Orleans. It’s like cheese and beef gravy on a fried shrimp po-boy. It’s just what we do. When in doubt, just throw on a dress. In New Orleans, being a dad means buying your son his first boa when he is eight-years-old. Before somebody else does. The best we can do is destigmatize it. Explain how every self-respecting man in New Orleans has at least one dress in his closet, often more than one. And maybe some glittery sneakers. Explain that in Tulsa. Weird hats and freaky masks that kids in Des Moines don’t find in their dads’ closets. They find boots. Camo. Shotguns. No high heels at all. And the ladders. Dads buy the ladders, personalize the ladders. Carry the ladders to the car. Load the ladders. Unload the ladders. Steady the ladders for the parades. Spend five hours protecting your kids’ faces from winged beads and baubles, Reload the ladders, take the ladders home and store the ladders until next year and cross your fingers that soon they will be too big or too old to plant their Moon Pie eating butts on a rickety death machine. In New Orleans, many families have more ladders than your typical Tru-Value Hardware store in Kansas City. Every now and then, new products and technologies come along to assist in contemporary fathering. Cup holders on strollers to hold your beer. Great call! Those weird child backpack things that keep your hands free when you take the kid out for a walk and your hands are free to hold your beer. Better idea! Being a father is unwieldy landscape no matter where you are raising children. From New Haven to Salt Lake City. Being a dad is the best of all worlds, the toughest of all worlds. New Orleans, however, poses unique prospects and challenges.
In other places, the parenting rule of thumb is to tell your kids not to talk to strangers. Good luck with that in New Orleans. Where nobody is a stranger. Everybody is just strange. And so we send our kids out into the world and they talk too much and laugh too loud and live too large and generally freak people out.
It’s all they know. Being a Black dad in New Orleans means having The Talk with your kids. About the cops, about retail security guards and clerks. About certain neighborhoods to avoid. On both sides of the color line. And about certain people. Be careful out there. Nobody ever said parenting was an equal opportunity experience.
My theory about parenthood was always that kids are like dogs: One is not enough, three is too many. Naturally, I had three. You hold these precious jewels in your big, soft, 21st century high tech dad hands, reveling upon marvels of life. Birthed from your loins. (Sort of.) And you look into this darling child’s eyes and he or she gazes back with relative disinterest and you can tell what they’re thinking: You smell bad. And you yourself realize: I’m screwed. Where’s the guidebook? What about the pandemic, climate change, racism, white supremecy, voting rights, terrorism, riots in the streets, volcanos (volcanos?), corruption, Wall Street, the 1-percenters, the other 99 percent, and where have all the butterflies gone? What good is childhood without butterflies?
Where have all the butterflies gone?
So, your kid is running down the sidewalk. She falls down and scrapes her knee and howls like a wounded animal. “Is she broken,” dad inquires, worriedly. “Is she gonna be alright?” Mother comes along and picks her up, gives a peck on the cheek, a pat on the butt and says: “Go play now.” And then comes the side-eye. Dude, chill out. They don’t break that easy. Don’t you have a lawn mower blade to sharpen, she says? And then: Oh wait, I already did that last week, she says. Dads are becoming obsolete, due to drones, artificial intelligence, Amazon, Grub Hub and...moms. They do everything we do but faster and better. And they generally look better doing it. We spill stuff. We break stuff. We rearrange the dresses in our closet. We explain to our kids that the color yellow is actually gold. Then we sit down to a meal of light beer and Doritos with our buddies to watch the Mets game and high-five and dap each other and toast ourselves for being the rulers of our roosts. Life is good. And if bad shit goes down, mom is here to take care of it. That’s what she’s good at.