More dad moments, please

It truly was a dad-moment. Harry Connick, Jr., amazing musician, husband, father of three daughters and all-around nice guy, recently asked an “American Idol” contestant, who had just turned 18, to repeat the first line of the song she just sang.

“You got me down on the floor, so what you got me down here for,” she replied.

He asked her if she really wanted to be singing about, you know, being down on the floor.

She squirmed. The camera cut to her parents sitting in the audience. She squirmed a bit more and then said something along the lines of why yes, she did want to sing about being “down on the floor, so what you got me down here for” because it was about women, power and what women want.

The audience roared and her parents beamed.

The dad in Connick had trumped the entertainer and celebrity in him. He didn’t flinch. In challenging the girl with a pointed question, he was actually attempting to protect her. That’s a brave move in today’s world.

We’re an odd lot. We strive to give kids the best schools, the best experiences, brag that they’re talented and ahead of the curve, yet shrink from asking basic questions that reveal whether they can follow simple logic.

If you’re down on the floor when you’ve barely turned 18, where do you think you’ll be at 19?

We do better with friend-mode than dad-mode or mom-mode. Friend-mode is comfortable, less confrontational. Yet asking kids pointed questions helps them connect the dots. It’s nothing new. It’s the same way Socrates taught Plato.

The thing about pop culture is that it demands such strict allegiance that few have the courage to question it. If you don’t think pop culture inflicts a suffocating sameness, note that gaggle of girls at the mall, the ones striving for individuality, yet pressed into conformity. They’re all wearing the same leggings, the same boots and twirling the same highlighted hair.

We sidestepped much of pop culture when our kids were young simply because so much of it was (and still is) coarse and vulgar. They were cheeky enough without the encouragement of Bart Simpson.

Were we protective? Without apology.

When they were older and ready to date, we protected them again.

Boys interested in spending time with our girls were often invited to dinner. We would tease that three out of the five members of our family belonged to the NRA. They’d laugh a nervous laugh, which is what we were going for. The message was, “We’re a fun family, but don’t do anything stupid, son.”

A graduating high school senior once said that of all the girls he dated, we were the only parents who had ever talked to him.

Was parent-mode ever interpreted as aggressive? Yes.

Did it cause conflict? On occasion.

Are children worth it? Absolutely.

When a lovely young woman croons about being down on the floor, someone needs to slip into dad-mode. Someone needs to ask her hard questions and let her know that she’s worth so much more.

Bird’s eye view of work

I picked up the phone. Without so much as a hello, a voice said, “What’s new? We have an eagle in the backyard.”

EagleThere was a three-second brain lapse before I recognized the voice as my nephew’s. He was excited.

“It has a white head about the size of a baseball and a big yellow beak. He’s sitting in the top of a dead cottonwood tree at the back of our property. You know, where we used to keep the trailer.”

My nephew is visually impaired as we say today.

“It has white tail feathers that must be a foot long. He’s been there a long time. We’re sitting out in the sunroom watching him.”

The term “visually impaired” lacks the full kick in the gut. He is blind.

Retinitis pigmentosa began stealing his sight when he was 12. He’s in his twenties now.

“It’s a big ol’ thing. Dad saw it fly in and said it must have a wingspan of six feet. We’ve got an eagle sitting out back. Can you believe it?”

I can believe they have the rare pleasure of spotting an eagle in the top of a cottonwood. What I can’t believe is that my nephew without sight is giving the color commentary. It shouldn’t be that surprising really.

His sight might be gone, but he sees plenty. From memory mostly, from conversation around him, from listening to television and radio. He has amazing recall. We took him into town with us when we were visiting once. Our GPS wouldn’t work, so he gave us directions. Turn by turn, complete with landmarks, approximate distance and cautions on curves in the road. He knew exactly where we were and got us to where we wanted to go.

Second to his family, there are two things that have been pivotal in this young man’s life: a guide dog and a job.

The guide dog unleashed confidence he didn’t know he had.

The job, well, as his dad said, “Having a job makes him like everybody else. Now he has something to come home and gripe about at the end of the day.”

I never have a conversation with my nephew without asking about his job in case he wants to gripe. If he does, I join the club and grouse a bit about my work, too.

But I know, and I know that he knows, work is a gift.

We were created to work. We were made to produce goods and services, invent, engineer and solve problems. Work, including the nonpaying work of mothers and caregivers, is what drags us out of bed in the morning.

Work gives us something to do and somewhere to go. If that doesn’t sound like a big deal, talk to someone unemployed. You might even help them paint over the claw marks running down their walls.

Work is how you prove that you have what it takes, to the world, and more importantly, to yourself. It is working hard that enhances the time that you don’t work, from kicking back and reading a book to watching an eagle.

Take the money, please

I hope I’m not asking too much, but could I just pay?

Could I just hand you some cash or swipe my credit card, take my purchase and go?

Why do you have to make me feel like a worm?

I’m friendly by nature, really I am. Surely you saw that when I approached the checkout counter and smiled.

We’re getting along fabulously, the transaction is going smoothly and then you have to sour it all by asking for my phone number.

Are you going to give me your phone number? I didn’t think so. I’m not giving you my phone number any more than I’m going to the parking lot and writing it in the dirt on the back windshields of pickup trucks. I don’t need a new best friend; I just need a new scrub brush I can fill with dish soap.

Now you look hurt and disappointed because I won’t give you my phone number. I feel terrible.

What’s that? You’d like my email address? No, you can’t have my email address.

What’s that? If I give you my email address, you’ll take five dollars off my next purchase? Look, I’ll pay you five dollars here and now if you’ll never ask me for personal information again. No? You can’t take cash? Too bad.

What’s that? Would I like to give you my street address? Why? Are you coming over? No, you can’t have my address. And if I see you follow me out of the store, I’m calling the police.

My zip code? All right. My zip code you can have. Now will you wipe that sad-puppy look off your face?

That’s better.

Did I know I could “like” your store on Facebook? Marvelous.

Would I like to donate to a charitable cause? If I say no, you’re going to think I’m cold and uncaring. What does it matter? You already think I’m a snob.

Would I like to take a survey? You’re circling the web address I can access to take a survey about my shopping experience today? If I say yes I’ll be lying, but if I say no you’re going to get that sad look again. I don’t say anything and now you’re certain I’m a snob, cold and uncaring.

Excuse me, I have a text: “Would you like a six-pack of Coke just for being you?”

How did the grocery get my cell? I never, ever, ever give out my cell. Blast that NSA!

For the record, the answer is no. No, I don’t want a six-pack of Coke; no, I don’t want to give you my phone number, my address, my email, my cell, my birth date, my Social Security number, my shoe size or my blood type. For the record, I make charitable contributions without solicitation and I probably won’t take time to go online and rate my shopping experience.

I’m leaving now. I feel like a jerk. I’m sorry it had to end this way. I just wanted to pay.

Giving your child unfair advantage

An acquaintance in his late 20s beamed from ear to ear as he told me that he is about to become a father. I gave him my hearty congratulations and commented on how happy he and his wife must be.

They are not married. I knew that, but I threw in the part about “he and his wife” hoping to plant an idea. I threw it in because the stories of kids growing up without dads are too many and too painful. I threw it in because Brad and Angelina may have assembled a brood of six before becoming engaged, but they are from that thin sliver of the population that enjoys unlimited wealth, own multiple homes and give private jets as birthday gifts. Rich celebrity couples do a great disservice when they make unmarried parenting look easy. Rich celebrity couples don’t shop Wal-Mart.

The fact is that this very kind young man, who surely chose a very kind young woman to deliberately replicate DNA with, will give his child a much better chance at success in this cold, cruel world if he advances from the role of father to that of husband.

The truth of this plays out every day. Literally.

If you are ever in a class or corporate training exploring diversity, you may be asked to play a game in which you will be “penalized” if you grew up in a married two-parent home because it has given you an unfair advantage in life.

What does the unfair advantage look like? Quite simply, two people can move a piano easier than one. When one of you is exhausted, the other one can take the lead. When one of you grows discouraged, the other one can find a new angle around a difficult corner.

Two are usually better equipped than one to avoid poverty, provide a roof overhead, food on the table, greater interaction, more supervision and conversation. Single parents can, and do, successfully raise children alone, but the path is far more difficult, which is why we readily give them generous amounts of support and sympathy.

From a child’s perspective, there is something mysteriously empowering about a wedding picture in a frame sitting on a shelf, the occasional envelope that comes addressed to Mr. and Mrs. and that crazy snoring at the end of the hall. It makes a kid feel stronger, smarter and taller. Marriage creates a safety net, visible and invisible.

People spend a lot of time assembling all the things a new baby will need, carefully choosing a crib, soft sleepers, diapers and baby creams. In a matter of several short years the child will have outgrown all of those things. But a child never outgrows the need for stability, a mom and dad committed to making a life and a home.

I wish I had been more direct with my young acquaintance. I should have said, “Your precious unborn baby deserves every unfair advantage. Why not give it to him? Why not give him the security of a mother and a father who are also husband and wife?”