19 April 2004, Stamford Advocate
Copyright 2004, Stamford Advocate. All Rights Reserved
By Barry Halpin
I am daydreaming about life B.C. (before children) and the carefree, fun times my wife and I had living in Venice Beach, Calif., when Erin comes stomping into the family room, a demented grin on her face. “Ugh! I can’t believe it, I am so like you dad, it’s beyond pathetic.”
This is every teenager’s worst nightmare! To be stuck in the horror movie, “I Was a Teenage Version of my Dad,” with no means of escape.
Time stands still, “Twilight Zone” music starts playing and I swear Rod Serling steps out of the television, saying, “Imagine, if you will, a fairly well-adjusted teenage girl living in suburbia, who suddenly discovers that she is manifesting certain behavioral traits of her dad.”
I remember when a similar realization came crashing down on me with numbing intensity. Growing up, I would watch television while my father sat in his favorite chair, painstakingly going through a pile of old newspapers, cutting out articles as though he was a high school student making a collage of world events for history class.
I wondered if he was ever going to read all those articles. Did he have a master plan I would ever be privy to? Whatever his reasons, it seemed like absolute insanity at the time.
One Sunday afternoon years later, while I was watching a football game and browsing through the Sunday Times Magazine section, I began to rip out an article. Then it hit me. I held the article in my hand, determined to either read it right then or tear it up and be done with it. Since I wasn’t in the mood to read the article, I called my hands to action, but there was no response. My hands were frozen as my mind screamed, “Rip it up! Rip it up! Right now!”
The article called out to me, “Take it easy, pal, there’s no reason to lose your cool. You can read me anytime you want and if I’m really special you can share me with your friends and family.” I heard “Twilight Zone” music playing softly in the background and there, standing off to the side with a bemused look on his face, was Rod Serling, silently mouthing his classic intro, “Imagine, if you will, a young boy growing up in the Bronx Š”
My wife has begrudgingly accepted my clippings but occasionally stares at me dumbfounded, wondering what has possessed me to save newspaper articles, most of which I’ll never read. She lovingly calls me “Barry the Ripper” and I just smile, totally understanding her point of view.
A lot of my dad’s physical mannerisms that drove me nuts are now my own. Every time I saw him holding his head in his hand, I was overtaken with this incredible urge to reposition him. The first time I became aware I was holding my head in my hand like he did, I consciously moved my hand away only to have it return reflexively. I guess it was impossible for me to fight my manifest destiny.
Now my daughter has approached me with concerns about her own manifest destiny and the frightening thought of becoming more like her dad as she gets older. When the “Twilight Zone” music stops and Rod Serling returns to the television, I know it is time for us to have a serious dad-daughter Circle of Life bonding session.
First, I need to get to the bottom of what she means by pathetic. Am I guilty of passing along my more pathetic traits or is it just pathetic that we are so alike? I wonder what her legacy will be and know only time will tell. I admit I am happy to have seen no evidence of the family tradition of ripping out newspaper articles, but then again Erin never reads newspapers.
I invoke the spirit of the ’60s and says a few “Far outs” and “Oh, wows!” as she runs down her litany of our similarities: tendency to procrastinate, intense curiosity, high energy, rebelliousness, not taking things seriously at times, overreacting, and love of driving, rock ‘n roll, sports, New York City and sushi.
She tells me she wasn’t exactly thrilled to have been given these traits, but she looks upon them as a good thing for the most part. Then it dawns on me. She is playing me like a Stradivarius. My loving daughter has come up with the quintessential excuse for her behavior on any future occasion and I am foolishly buying into it.
The “I am so like you, Dad, what else could you expect me to do?” excuse will no doubt leapfrog to the top of the list of excuses she has accumulated over the years. This is one she can proudly shout from the rooftops when needed.
What defense is there for this oh-so-perfectly-crafted excuse?
“Hey dad, I had no choice. I did exactly as you would have done in that situation. I’m just a mini-you, genetically programmed to do as you did. If you’re going to get angry, get angry at yourself.”
In our modern day “it’s not my fault” society where people are always trying to slip out of taking the responsibility for their actions, children are especially accomplished at blaming their parents for their “horrible” existence.
Part of the Circle of Life is to rebel against your parents as they once did with their parents, and, most importantly, have them hate the music you love. Every teenager knows the sublime joy of blasting their music and having their parents shout out, “Turn that awful music down.”
The sound I love most has always been my daughters’ laughter so it is great to have a good laugh at all our similarities, especially our tendency to overreact and spazz out. Erin and I then sit down for a meal of homemade sushi while the Allman Brothers blast from the stereo. Hakuna Matata!