The Great Wolf Lodge and The Trick of Fatherhood

Who You Waving That Wand At

“A truly great man never puts away the simplicity of a child.”–Confucius

A few weeks back I celebrated Father’s Day.  There’s nothing special about that.  Many of us have embraced the idea of this holiday, which is—like all holidays, made-up.  The day exists, but it is made important through arbitrary methods that are completely disconnected from the rubric that, on all other days, we consider reality.  This year I had the most challenging time trying to embrace the holiday while remembering that it was a farce.  We went, as a family, to a place called The Great Wolf Lodge which is located on an Indian Reservation an hour or better to the South of my house.  The Great Wolf Lodge is an indoor water-park/hotel that is built to accomplish two things: 1) See to it that kids never want to leave without dropping five (5) to six (6) dollars per every pound they weigh, and 2) To flabbergast parents/guardians into a state just north of a coma so that they comply with thing one (1).  To describe this place as “overwhelming” would be as big an understatement as describing being hit by a Pterodactyl egg that had been laid mid-flight as “an unfortunate mess”.  But, despite all of its pitfalls, I learned something very important about Fatherhood there, a lesson that had less to do with being sophisticated—or what I’d thought being grown-up meant—than I ever would have imagined.

My first clue that my understanding of Fatherhood, and its relative pertinence to Father’s Day, had left the rails was finding myself feeling more and more annoyed by my kids.  I was annoyed by the fact that they needed so much care that day and by the fact that I was going to a water-park to celebrate a day that was invented to make me feel important.  I don’t like water-parks…I did once…I don’t know what happened to that affinity, but it is gone.  That is neither here nor there; the thing I want to convey through this paragraph is this: If you are being annoyed on Father’s Day by the very people that gave you the title, you have made some mistakes in discerning the border that divides reality and fantasy.  Stop what you are doing, and turn around.  Mistakes concerning borders have been known to land folks in Iranian prisons for vague lengths of time.  Borders with relation to realism are no less dangerous.  As important as existential conundrums can sometimes be, it is not the larger point I want to make.

I had a struggle with going to The Lodge from the moment that I’d heard it was on the agenda.  I did not want to go.  But reluctantly, I agreed to this plan.  My friend Chris once gave me advice with regard to commitment.  I don’t recall the exact context, but he told me that if I were to commit to something noble, having never truly considered the sacrifice, and once having come to a point where-in the situation takes a turn for the untenable, I choose to give up—I’ve become like a man who agrees to have all of his fingers cut off to resolve an hostage situation and after feeling the pain of losing the first digit gives up—I essentially become a man who walks the earth with nine (9) fingers for no good reason.  Go ahead and read that again, it’s not just you, that was a convoluted premise.  I agreed to go on this trip with my family, and then tried to spend the weekend straddling the fence between martyr and asshole…poorly.

The lesson that I learned while at The Lodge was not one of sophistication, as I mentioned earlier, but one of whimsy.  In my self-centeredness I forgot that regardless of all of my logical generalizations, and well-reasoned objections to this place, when my girls first beheld this monument it was as cool as anything they’d ever seen.  There were slides and pools and sprinklers and a huge bucket that dropped hundreds (100s) of gallons of water on unsuspecting passers-by for no perceivable reason.  It was the illegitimate love-child of The Cat in the Hat, and one of The Wonder Twins…the one who could turn into water.  There was an arcade and some restaurants and an ice-cream parlor and a game room and a craft room and these magic wands that you could wave toward inanimate creatures on the wall, and they’d magically re-animate.  This was all in one building.  The same building in which we slept…poorly.  For a kid, there are few places that compare, I imagine.  But for a self-centered dad it was nothing but cartoon dollar signs dissolving into the ether for reasons long forgotten.  What the fuck do I know about whimsy?  For a guy who struggles to recognize it, I sure am proficient at stealing it from those who know how to enjoy it.  I remember as a young adult never wanting to rob my children of a chance at whimsy.  I remember what it is like, vaguely.  I can sort of remember how it feels to be robbed of it.  As I recall, it is none too pleasant.

I remember as a child watching Sesame Street when I was very young…it may be my earliest memory and one, of a very few, that precedes my eighth (8th) birthday.  One of the puppets was looking at the camera…and in my mind, at me, and inviting me to come to his house, which was something like: “Look I made a special party for you, and decorated the place for you, because you are special.”  I remember I wanted to go there…just through that thin piece of glass into a world that was so much better than the one in which I lived.  I knew it would happen one day…I was sure of it.  But as life dragged on, it became apparent to me that I was never gonna make it to that barrio, it mattered little how impassioned the invitation or how thin the window…the passion was always a little too thin, and the glass a little too thick to make it happen.  That was disappointing, but it did not take away my whimsy.  What took away my whimsy was the first time I saw a T.V. with the screen smashed in, this was shocking for two reasons: 1) The violence that was required to break said screen, and 2) The contents of the television.  It was just wires and glass and powder.  It was an insufficient carpet on which to take my magic ride.  Sorry, Ernie.

As a parent I know that I can do little to guard against this sort of reality-check.  It is good for kids to figure out that they’re not going to fly through the T.V. screen to a magical place.  However, I do find that there are lots of opportunities to encourage real whimsy and thus make the sillier facades seem less traumatic when they melt away.  Things like embracing a moment of joy in a water-park as being no more or less valuable than the look in your child’s eyes.  Things like making your child believe that they (not you) are the most important person in the world to you, every now and again.  And…I don’t know…maybe not complaining about the price of an ice-cream cone every time they ask for one, because it’s not as though your kids are on the take…and besides, in the long-run, who really cares?


Entropy, It Ain’t What It Used To Be

“Only entropy comes easy.” Anton Chekhov

I first read this line, the line after which this post is named, on a t-shirt.  Funny stuff if you ask me…and while I know you didn’t, I’m confident that you’re thankful for my brilliant observation.  Lately I’ve been thinking about the frustration that people face as a result of entropy.  For the purpose of this post the term entropy means: everything is breaking down…all around us…everyday.  This is a gross simplification of the term, and has a far more suitable definition on their site…feel free.  I’m not one of those bloggers who pads his word count by using cut and paste to insert long drawn-out definitions into his posts.  Plus I tried.  Formatting was a bear.  So—here we are.  The actual definition really has little to do with my point, which is more about how this constant degradation of stuff makes us feel, and how we react to it…more to the point, how I react to it.   The frustration that this process produces seems to be as universal as the proclivity to try and reverse it.  We all entertain, at times, the slavish inclination to slow the decay-rate of our possessions, our relationships, our bodies, and our lives.

My life is filled with all of these little reminders that things are not cooperative.  I want my car to run trouble-free until the time comes when I am bored with it and want another…“It’s not you, car, it’s me”…it’s totally me.  My house, which is a great place, has little things happening in it all the time that need maintenance or repair.  They are small, insignificant things, but so are ticks…and that fact makes them no less annoying.  Relationships are no minor source of frustration for me, I constantly have to apologize for something stupid I’ve said or done…and it is wearisome at times.  I know, I know, the solution is simple: “Just stop saying and doing stupid things”.  That really does seem simple when I read it…alas; the doing is far more complex—as they say when hot coffee is in play: “There are many a slip, between cup and lip”.  But the point isn’t how I fix me; that’ll take some time, and I’m beginning to suspect I won’t be around for the re-boot unveil of pats0 2.0.  My point has to do with the fact that everything around me is an indicator that I was not made to be in a constant environment of decay…it makes me uncomfortable…the natural state of the world and all of its elements makes me uncomfortable.

What could be more natural than decay?  Instinctually, we realize this simple fact at a very young age.  We receive a toy that captures our imaginations and quickly usurps the role of our former favorite toy to become our new favorite.  When that happens, we protect it with a vigor that our Slinky and Silly-Putty never enjoyed.  It’s as though we know: the more hands that touch this treasure, the more magic that is drained.  Soon, Chatty Cathy speaks in hushed tones and the clicks that used to be so prominent when our Lego’s found their purchase become more and more subtle.  But this does little to quell our shock as life doles out proof after proof that this is the way it is.  We are not only shocked that it is happening to us, but we react in a way that would lead one to believe that we think that entropy is a strange quirk that we alone possess, and as such we try and hide, from everyone, the fact that our world is coming down around our ears.

In a recent issue of Rolling Stone magazine, I read two articles about two recent media train-wrecks—Charlie Sheen and John Mayer…the former got the cover, and after reading the article, I can see why.  Say what you want about the tiger-blood swilling, seven-gram rock-banger…when he’s not winning, the man gives a compelling interview, because that’s how he rolls.  But that is neither hither nor thither; the metaphor that these two guys employed to describe the way their lives felt just prior to their public melt-downs was the interesting part.  They both made reference to the idea that their lives were falling down all around them, and they were standing there trying to hold it all up as things crumbled.  It read like someone trying to hold up a house while it is falling down.  Although not to give those inside a couple of extra seconds to escape, but more for seeing to it that the neighbors never suspected that anything was wrong with the structure…the very last ditch in damage control.  Everything is okay here, move along.

I have never, nor do I know anyone who has, lived in a perfect world.  I’ve heard no firsthand accounts of what it would be like, but the longing for unity, for peace, for redemption, and for a clock that never losses time is everywhere.  It is in our poems, songs, and stories.  So from where does all of this consternation toward degradation come?  The imagination of humanity seems to reliably point toward a future devoid of disappointment; at least a good portion of our fantasy is bent on a better hope.  But this is not the story of history.  The story of history is change through adversity…maturity through suffering.  What a crazy coincidence that we all long for something perfect…Crazy like a Warlock…

June Fourth

“A kiss is a lovely trick designed by nature to stop speech when words become superfluous.”

–Ingrid Bergman

In 1994 on June the 4th my wife Kristy and I were married…I’d known her for a couple of years, and she was the second serious girlfriend I’d had in my life.  Though I had had two girlfriends and had been dating for four or five years and I was about to get married, I was still a complete idiot on the matter of girls and relationships…A complete idiot.  This well-veiled fact was of little deterrent for my soon-to-be-bride and I.  It had no power to deter her, because she wasn’t aware of my ignorance.  Somehow, I’d been able to hide my stupidity.  It had no power to deter me because I had no vested interest in listening to reason, and one’s wedding day is no time to start listening to anything that might “rock the boat”, as they say.  So there we were: two people completely, blissfully, ignorantly, about to give our lives to one another…what a happy mistake.

I know describing a marriage, especially one that has lasted eighteen years, as a mistake is not romantic…it may even be borderline rude.  But when I look back on all the years my wife and I have been together, and how little we knew about love, commitment, and one another, I would be lying to call it anything else.  I couldn’t have written this story.  I couldn’t even have coordinated this effort.  Someone else deserves the credit.  Someone who knows how to turn happy mistakes into lives that tell the story of redemption.

I’ve heard it said that the way people generally view marriage is something like this: “I know that I love me, and I’d like you to join me in the life-long quest of loving me.”  I don’t know who said that originally, but it seems to me very apt.  Though it will never make its way on to an anniversary card and it is an ill-advised way of beginning a marriage proposal, it is what people seem to be thinking when they decide to get married.  I know that I put far less thought into what I needed to do to love my wife, than what she needed to do to love me.  I don’t know if she was thinking the same thing, but I do know that in this scenario the ratio was in the 50% range, and that is as large a consensus as one could hope for in these tumultuous times…for good or ill.  As such, I feel good about considering this an appropriate generalization.

It is an interesting thing, marriage.  Two people trying to turn separate histories, separate ideas of family, and separate ambitions of what family can be into one singular story while everyone they love and who love them look on.  It may not be the highest pressure situation known to human-kind…but it is close.  It’s no small wonder, that the failure rate of said institution is so high.

So how did I get so lucky?  Me, a guy who’d fought against all odds to even find love.  Me, a guy who has no idea what the term really means, in the larger scheme of things.  A guy who struggles in the most non-ironic way to understand it every day…a guy who cares less about reciprocating it than having the capacity to truly understand it, as life goes on…how am I so lucky?   It seems unfair.  And it is.

But what am I supposed to do?  Apologize; try and make you feel better about your misfortune?  I cannot.  I will not.  I lack the power.  All I can tell you is that love is real. I never believed it, but for crying out loud I’ve seen it…even though I had no right.  I’ve seen it.  And now what can I tell you?  Get off of your ass and find it.  You are unable to do it in your own strength…and please believe me when I tell you this is no taunt…you are unable to find love in your own strength.  But this does not preclude you from finding it…so go!

Eighteen years?  Here’s to mistakes…beautiful, beautiful mistakes…thank God for them.  I know I do…