My son Smartacus was hunched over his breakfast the other morning. I assumed in prayer, but as it turned out, he was just getting caught up on his TikTok and various other short-form literature. Such fare is currently melting the minds of our youth, the way Elvis once did, the way comic books and TV once did.
Now it’s these video clips that they obsess over. Trust me, it can’t be worse than what they’ll be obsessing over in 10 or 20 years.
Let us pray.
I feel I’ve failed as a father, in the same way my own dad must’ve felt when he saw me sprawled on the couch watching reruns of “The Beverly Hillbillies.”
Most guys mentally zoomed in on Elly May. Not me. For me, it was Miss Hathaway. That’s probably what worried Dad the most.
“Always been a sucker for really smart women,” I told him when I was 15. “Rich ones too. And the stupid ones…. “
“Go mow the lawn,” he barked.
Point is: Skim the fat off of pop culture, and that’s where you’ll find your kids playing in the pool. The shallowest, most-insipid stuff seems to aid the development of young and impressionable brains.
That’s my excuse anyway. As is the current fashion, I blame other people for everything that’s bad about me.
Let us pray again.
Most socialization now takes place digitally. The iconic image of our time is a total idiot walking into traffic while enthralled with his smart phone.
Meanwhile, there are goofs like me, still reading a daily newspaper.
The other morning, the paper failed to arrive and it was as if the previous day never happened. Apparently, I still need the physical paper to check off the calendar in my head.
I imagined all the characters from all the comics, looking at the camera with their hands upturned, the word bubbles saying: “Where is everybody? What gives? OK, I’m taking the day off.”
I’m a very tactile guy. I touch everything. You should see me eat popcorn. With peanuts it’s worse. No fingers, just the palms…shoveling. Ribs are a full-body experience, sauce flying, like a battlefield reenactment.
There is nothing dainty about me, and if I scratch an elbow doing yardwork, there is a small joy to that. Not sure why. Life is a contact sport, I guess. We’re only alive when we hurt a little.
Hence, newspapers. Like me, they hurt a little.
When the paper didn’t arrive the other day, that triggered the usual Socratic digital debate over the merits of a physical paper, the opposition led by cretins who say reading the news on the phone is even better.
These are the same people who prefer imitation crab, soy burgers, fake boobs, false bravado, phone sex and Trevor Noah.
These are the same dweebs who prefer food trucks to picnics, football over baseball, grape juice to wine, Billie Eilish to Billy Joel.
No judgment. Certainly not from me. These cretins simply like what they like. I like what I like. Honestly, I’m a cretin too, just one with a warm and visceral soul.
A morning paper is — like love, like a full moon — an experience best shared with others. A morning paper is someone slipping their hand into yours.
Every morning, my son Smartacus and I evaluate the state of society by poring over the sports page, almost line by line, as if performing an audit.
The sports page is how I’ve taught all my kids to read.
I hope that like cable cars, vinyl records and ma-and-pa diners, newspapers will be with us forever. I kinda doubt it. But I want it badly.
Let us pray.
Phones are to newspapers what grocery carts are to tall-masted ships. Newspapers flutter in a stiff breeze…they talk to you, they cackle. I find a physical paper to be strangely provocative, like a Picasso — not traditionally pretty, yet alluring…beddable.
Yeah, I’m weird, not even close to normal. I’m a dad, and that’s taken its usual toll.
I apologize on behalf of all the loopy dads out there. Thing is, we are the world’s last traditionalists…the holdouts on everything of any actual value.
Dads are Diogenes with a fading lamp, trying to read a Lotto ticket in the dark.
Look, dads like what they like: Recliners, card tricks, vintage cars, good yard care. And traditional newspapers.
It’s not difficult to understand dads. They hate shortcuts. Hate fads.
Dads hate IKEA furniture, for instance. They feel IKEA symbolizes everything that has gone wrong in the past 50 years.
Fortunately, dads are goofs, prideful in their ability to make a joke of everything. They even have their own line of humor. Seriously, has anyone ever heard a “Mom joke?”
I was with my wife for 40 years and never heard her tell a single joke. She could be quick with a quip, spin a good story. But tell a joke? Not once.
Here’s the progression of a modern American father:
Most dads start to grow stiff and achy by 40. By 50, they are often a little cranky.
By 60, dads are the grandest celebration of modern manhood that God has ever produced — jutty and strong … sculptural, not an ounce of fat or fluff, keen in mind and spirit, inspirational in the way of Leonidas or Hannibal.
By the time he turns 70, a dad is the embodiment of all that is artful and magnificent about our mortal world.
By 80, most dads are dead.
Know what kills them? Nagging. Just a hunch, but I think it’s the nagging. And the chores.
No one values a dad till you need one. Dad is where you go when you wreck the car. Or lose a job. Or you can’t get the garage door to close.
They are the only customer service that actually helps.
Dads are about as hip as a Bible, as cool as a slide rule, about as trendy as Home Depot wine.
Like newspapers, dads are tactile, dads are real. They have a few scars and emotional dings, so many that they’ve forgotten where they all came from.
Who cares? They’re dads.
Certainly, dads have their quirks. They have their own aromas — more moose than marigolds. My own dad smelled like a combo of cheese, Sea & Ski and walleyed pike.
Moms claim to be cold till it’s about 85 degrees out. Dads start to blister when the temperature hits 70.
They’re not so great with birthdates or anniversaries. A dad will forget your birth year but remember how many three-homer games Ernie Banks had (4). Or what Tom Watson shot in the third round at Muirfield in 1980 (64). Duh.
Sure, there are bad dads. I don’t really know any. Scoff all you want at the suburbs, but the ’burbs don’t really tolerate bad dads. There is a stigma to it, followed by group stomping. Yeah, there’s been an uncle here and there who were cads, who didn’t have much follow-through.
But you see more bad dads on streaming TV than in real life. The bad dad is an archetype, a foil, a comic solution for weak writers.
One of the beauties of “Ted Lasso,” the finest TV show in years, is that he was a deeply devoted father.
Generally, I don’t care for what the media says about dads. And, obviously, the feeling is mutual.
Thing is, good dads give blood on a daily basis. Good dads – and grandpas, and moms, and grandmas – show up. They are America’s greatest natural resource.
In a world built increasingly on emojis and avatars, dads are the real deal.
I appreciate dads, even if no one else does, in the same way I appreciate newspapers.
What I suspect is that I like any decent thing that has fallen completely out of fashion.
By now, you realize that fashionable things are a farce, right? An illusion. A total scam.
Our fathers certainly did.
So, psalms to my old man. And more psalms to yours.
Oh, heavenly fathers…
Best gifts I ever got were my four kids. Next best, this incredible grandbaby. Third? This incredible book, “Daditude,” a funny ode to fatherhood. There are still a few copies left, but move quickly because we only printed, like, 10 copies. For info, please click here. Meanwhile, Happy Father’s Day to all the guys who give blood on a daily basis. You know who you are. Cheers.