Lifestyles of the Rank and Feral

Another "community column" from 1992; the title of this blog post comes from a comic that was taped to my fridge at the time. Those summers with my girls are some of the best memories of my life, though I was often running ragged and almost constantly out of money. It was a bit like this:

Joe Clark
Community Column #10
to run 7/28/92

Part-time Dads strip away civilization's veneer

I'm not sure how Dan Quayle feels about me.
That is, I'm a single parent this summer. Actually, I'm a single parent all year 'round, but I don't have the evidence with me unless school's out.
My daughters, ages 5 and 9, live with their mom in Pennsylvania nine months out of the year. They stay with me during the summer. It's a different twist on the usual alternate-weekends shared-parenting arrangement many people use, and it has both advantages and drawbacks. The latter is a doozy: I may not see my girls for months at a time. But on the plus side, I get an uninterrupted, industrial-strength dose of young'un just in time for beach season. And a chance to grow with my children through the day-to-day routine: drowsy cereal mornings, the angst of day-care and the frantic search for a supper we can all agree on, and chronically missed bedtimes at night.
I can't speak for the full-time single dads out there, but I know us part-timers have one driving goal for the custody period, whether it be weekend or quarter: DESTROY ALL VESTIGES OF SOCIALLY-ACCEPTABLE BEHAVIOR. It's true. Consider the following list of rules for the part-time single dad:
1. BREAK DOWN STIFLING AESTHETIC PREJUDICES. Always dress the children in mismatched clothes. (It's not that we do it on purpose. I swear red and purple look OK to me. With green socks.)
2. DEFY ARBITRARY DICTATES ON FREQUENCY OF HAIR-BRUSHING. You remember how much it hurts, and how it lasts longer than third period. My youngest daughter, Laura--who opted for a pixie-cut just before summer started--has inexplicably acquired the nickname "Spike" at the day-care center.

3. REMAIN AMUSEDLY TOLERANT OF PUBLIC ACROBATICS. They look so cute swinging on the rails between the checkout counters at the grocery store. Let the carts stack up in the next lane. Those people obviously have no sense of humor.

4. EXPOSE THEM TO NON-TRADITIONAL LITERATURE. At last, someone who shares your love of coprophiliac limericks and flatulence jokes. And they retain things so well! There's no telling when they might decide to recite--perfectly--the one about the monkey and the corncob. Usually, in front of guests. And in a related gutter,

5. EXPAND THEIR SOUND-PRODUCTION REPERTOIRE. The bronx cheer is for sissies. They must learn to mimic the sound of escaping gas through at least two of the following methods: a) Palm-Under-the-Armpit, b) Lips Pressed Against the Forearm, and c) Air-Bubble in the Cheek. I'm proud to report that my girls have mastered all three, and have also learned to make disturbing noises with balloons.

6. INSTILL IN THEM A HEALTHY SENSE OF THE SUPERNATURAL. This comes down to me from my grandfather, who used to tell us that "Raw Head and Bloody Bones" lived in his kitchen cabinets--and would we fetch him a glass of water, please? Now my kids twitch and shudder whenever they pass the warm-air return in the hallway. Simply because they've heard "Herman" lives there. Yesterday Lindsay, my oldest, spent hours on her latest arts-and-crafts project: garlic necklaces for each of us.

7. INSPIRE CREATIVE PLAY. Look at all the wonderful things we can sculpt with Play-Dough! Did you ever suspect there were so many fire ants in such a small mound? And who says Barbie can't be a Terminator? "Ell be beck, Ken."

8. DEVELOP A CLOSE UNDERSTANDING OF NATURE. "What are those two dogs (cats/toads/birds/lovebugs) doing, Dad?" "Was that poison ivy, Dad?" "What do you mean, 'spider-bite', Dad?" "AAAAAAGH! A BEE!! KILL IT, DAD!!!"

9. EXPERIMENT WITH NUTRITION. Why dirty up forks when you can use your hands? Nobody's looking. Laura doesn't even need a spoon to eat applesauce. Best conditions for brainstorming: seven-o'clock at night, with empty stomachs, in the chips aisle.

10. DEVELOP MOTOR SKILLS. Jumping on the bed is good exercise. "Horsie" is a great opportunity for free chiropractic treatment, and certain to be demanded of everyone who stops by--if the kids are conditioned properly.
Our path toward these lofty goals is not an easy one. Our opportunities are limited by lengthy periods of apoplectic tickling, mesmerized movie-watching, and soft-voiced bedtime story reading. Our minds are distracted by the helpless trust of small arms surrounding our necks, the joyous shrieks and giggles emanating from a pillow-fight, and the curious way a small child gains twenty pounds and fifty degrees when she falls asleep on one's shoulder. We become lost in wonder at the flowering of personality, the amazingly accurate observations, the piercing questions--and for long moments at a time we contemplate the thought that if children such as these are to inherit the world, then perhaps there is hope after all.
And we are dumbfounded at our role in all this.
Yet we part-time single dads must not lose sight of our ultimate purpose. We must keep to the narrow path. Must not yield to distraction, for in a very short time--as it is for all parents--our influence will wane. The next time we meet they will have undergone months of civilizing influences, and many of our efforts will have been undone. They may not even remember half the lyrics to "Greasy Grimy Gopher Guts."
I'll have to get busy. I think tonight's lesson will be a tactical overview of dirt-clods, rubber bands, squirt guns, and water balloons.

Joe Clark's name will probably show up on a computer list soon. Meanwhile, he is a project manager with FSU's new Educational Services Program.

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