This is an offshoot of the original Liam & Janet blog. That blog has become overrun by Liam's inability to keep his mouth shut when something annoys him. The serious rants there seemed incongruous with the humor columns. The plan for the humor columns continues to be to post a new one every Friday, plus occasional extras when the mood strikes.

Monday, June 28, 2010

P.S. Daddy, I Love You

[This is the second essay posted to]

It's June, the month of Father's Day, and so I thought I'd spend a little bit of time thinking about what fatherhood has meant to me.

Now, the first thing I know many readers will notice is that in comedy, as in everything, timeliness is everything, and by the time this essay posts, Father's Day will be well past, but I feel that it is still relevant, because if this year is true to form, this essay will still post about a week before my children get around to giving me a card and a gift which they will insist that they've had since well before the day and just kept forgetting to send me, not realizing that one of them will accidentally have left the dated receipt in the card envelope in their hurry to get it in the mail. Father's Day for me isn't so much a day, it's an afterthought. On the complaint letter of life, Father's Day is the "P.S. I love you."

What does fatherhood mean to me... well, for starters, it means a lot of diapers. A LOT of diapers. Good heavens, there are diapers. No one warns you before you have children that the stress will make you incontinent. Oh, and the kids go through a lot of diapers, too.

Diapers come to us from the massive diaper conglomerates (or "Big Poop"), which have somehow managed to train our young children to eliminate waste in whatever pattern and time schedule will make for the highest usage rate. Really, I think they put something in the water. My own son seems to have decided that it isn't proper to poop in a soiled diaper, so he will come to me and say "I need a fresh diaper", which I can plainly see because the one he's currently wearing is hanging nearly to his knees and has developed a color not unlike a golden delicious apple gone a little bit soft and squishy, and so I'll ask him "Liam, do you need to poop?" and he'll say "No, Daddy", and so I will change his diaper, and within minutes (sometimes as I am still fastening the Velcro tabs that keep the new diaper affixed) he begins straining as though he's trying to give birth to a younger sibling, and viola, Big Poop has sold another unit.

Fatherhood also means a lot of yelling, and saying things like "because I'm the Daddy, that's why", and each time these things happen, we die a little bit inside as we think back to when we were young and our fathers would say those same infuriating things to us, and we swore to ourselves when we had kids, we'd never say such things to them. I think we can all clearly remember asking a perfectly reasonable question of Daddy and having him reply "because I'm the Daddy, that's why", and thinking that was a completely unreasonable answer, but knowing that the next answer is going to be "because this is my belt, that's why", and so we walked away.

It is not until we have children of our own that we realize that it isn't the one reasonable question that sets Daddy off, it's the series of 276 of them that it immediately followed. "Daddy, why does it rain?", "Well, son, it's because water evaporates to form clouds and when those clouds get too heavy and full of water, it falls back to Earth.", "But why does water evaporate?", "Well, son, because the sun heats up the water and so little bits of it end up going up into the air.", "But why does the sun heat the water up?", "Well, son, ..", "but why?", "well", "but why?".... "BECAUSE I'M THE DADDY, THAT'S WHY!"

Still, though, it's not all yelling and trite moments of hearing our fathers speaking through our mouths, there are also moments of pure bliss, such as the second time our child successfully urinates without a diaper (the first having been the time he got us squarely in the side of the head as we, new to the changing of diapers, failed to check the pistol to make sure there wasn't a bullet in the chamber, so to speak). Or the first time (this one happened to me several months back) we're out to dinner with friends, and our son says to the people we're with "That's my Daddy. I love him." You'd be surprised how few times you need to make him repeat that phrase before he'll go and repeat it to others, verbatim.

My son Liam is a source of joy and wonder for me, and can turn a crappy day into a glorious one with such a simple act as padding into my room and asking if he can climb into bed with me for the night, or struggling with his little fingers to mimic the sign-language symbol for "I Love You" which I've just made in his direction.

Or (this is true) the time he and I and much of the rest of my family were out having dinner at a restaurant with my parents. The meal drawing to a close, I gestured to the waiter and said "Could I get a box?", intending to wrap up the remainder of my meal for lunch the next day. He asked "Just the one?", and I glanced around the table to see if anyone else would need one, and as I was just about to answer, Liam puts up his fist, index finger high and says "Just the one."

Now, I had determined that one other person at the table needed a box, so I said "I think we need two."

To which Liam replied "No, Daddy, not two, just the one." The humor of this situation does not convey properly until you get the visual. You will recall Liam had his pointer finger up, with the back of his hand towards the waiter. When I replied that we wanted two boxes, I had put up two fingers in something approximating the classic "peace" symbol, and so as Liam said "not two" he lifted up his second finger to mimic my gesture, and as he said "just the one" he put the INDEX finger back down.

Yes, my at that time not-quite-four year old son flipped off the waiter and an entire room full of patrons. This is the kind of class you can't teach.

And I haven't even touched on the joys of fathering older children, such as my 16 year old son who is now driving, and whom, when he asks to borrow my car, I admonish to be extremely careful because I worry that he'll wreck it or himself, but whom I'm secretly more afraid will turn out to be significantly more successful at picking up women than I am, forcing me to confront the fact that it is NOT the dorky Toyota Prius that I drive, but my own balding middle aged body that's hindering my social life.

Or such as my teen aged daughters, who are becoming beautiful young women, which is wonderful, but comes at a price. Nature, in her infinite wisdom, has decreed that every teen aged girl must behave like a narcissistic crack addict, but with more showers. As men, we will never truly understand PMS, which is why the women in our lives get so annoyed at us when we talk about it. But as fathers of teen aged girls, we come to know PMS in a way that makes any previous experience we had with it seem trivial. The truth is that PMS was named by the father of a teen aged girl, and he originally intended it to stand for Please Make it Stop.

Now, don't get me wrong, I love my daughters. They are good girls, all three of them, and they make me happy. They also make the few remaining hairs on my head gray and the needle on my sphygmomanometer red-line. ("sphygmomanometer" is from the latin roots "sphygmo", meaning "let me inflate this tubular balloon" and "manometer" until you lose all feeling from your elbow down"). And just in case my blood pressure wasn't high enough, nature has also seen fit to make teen aged girls the most beautiful creatures on Earth, and so while half of me is crying out for them to leave the house for just a few minutes of peace and quiet, the other half knows the moment they do, some balding, fat middle aged guy will try to pick them up in a Toyota Prius.

Copyright © May 22&30, 2010 by Liam Johnson.

Monday, June 14, 2010

On Stereotypes

[This was my first essay for I hope you like it! I'm sorry for the boring title, I honestly couldn't come up with a good one.]

A friend asked me an interesting philosophical question, recently.

"Are we trending towards a society in which it is not politically correct to admit that there are innate or typical strengths and weaknesses to each of the genders?", she asked. Of course it was a she. A man would never ask such a question. Well, not a REAL man.

I am not such a man, and so I immediately posed the question to a few of my friends, who looked at me with a concerned look, shaking their heads with a rueful sadness that says "After two divorces, he still hasn't realized how much more content he'd be if he'd just admit to himself that he's gay?"

I think the question is an interesting one, because it isn't really about equality, it's about preconceived notions and prejudices, and the assumption that because something is generally true, it will therefore be always true. Consider a game of Russian Roulette. With a standard six-shooter and one bullet in the chamber, it is generally true that pulling the trigger will NOT result in a projectile, but it is foolish (and more than a little bit messy) to assume this is always the case.

Let's take the statement "men are stronger than women". I think we can all agree that this is demonstrably true on average, when speaking of physical strength (as opposed to comparing, say, the stoic "family first" attitude of a woman with the flu and a 104 degree fever, compared to the "bring me some soup, I'm sick!" whining of a man with the sniffles). And yet in college, I (no slouch in the strength department) routinely had my ass kicked in wrestling matches with one of my best friends, who was on the womens' rugby team at her college. And the fact that I kept challenging her to rematches shows the extent of the trouble our preconceived notions can get us into. Also, the lengths to which an awkward, geeky engineering school student will go in order to feel lady-flesh pressed up against him... mmmm, lady-flesh... where was I?

The truth is that there are some things that, as a class, men are better at than woman, such as physical strength and being attractive to members of the musical group "Village People", and there are other things that, as a class, women are better at than men, such as coming up with things women are better at than men, and keeping their egos in check long enough to admit that men might be better at anything than they, themselves are.

The key is in the phrase "as a class". I should point out that this may be the first time in the history of human writing that the word "class" has been used in close conjunction with the word "men", a subset of humanity who, as a rule, think nothing of chewing with their mouths open, telling jokes in mixed company that more cultured genders would consider improper to even admit to having heard, and emitting aromas and other expulsions as loudly as possible from various bodily orifices. I honestly believe the first man who figures out a way to squirt ear-wax with a nauseating squelch will be revered in the annals of guy history, and I also honestly believe that each male reader will have, in his head, just thought "he said 'the anals of guy history' " and laughed the "Beavis & Butt-Head" laugh.

In the end, the point is to accept people on their individual strengths, and not some imputed list of assumed strengths and weaknesses based upon one group or another of which the person is a member. For example, I am a computer programmer by trade, a profession which, as a whole, has demonstrated the raw grammatical and spelling abilities of a lobotomy patient, and yet I have written this entire article on my own. OK, bad example. How about this: I am a guy, and we're generally considered weak in the "attentive lovers" department, and yet... no, that's not a great example either. Well, I'm sure there must be good examples out there.

Consider other stereotypes. If you ask a woman about stereotypes, she will likely expound at great length about how women have been typified in the popular culture over the years, and about "glass ceilings" and "mommy tracks". Ask a guy about stereotypes, and he'll say something like "Mine's a Pioneer, but I hear Sony makes a good system. Just make sure you get a good set of speakers and a kick-ass subwoofer".

And sadly, I'm showing a stereotype of my age group, because these kids these days don't have "stereos" any more, they have their iPods and their MP3s and their youtubes and really, I just wish they'd get off of my lawn.

Is it political correctness? Good heavens, I hope not! But when all is said and done, I prefer to treat people not in terms of the strengths and weaknesses of their gender, but in terms of themselves personally. For every stereotype you can name, I can point you to an example of a member of the target group who does not fit that stereotype. For instance, my Mom is an excellent driver. And I couldn't figure out how to change the oil in my car if my life depended on it.

Then again, I already admitted I'm not such a man.

Copyright © May 5-14, 2010 by Liam Johnson.

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