Dad Problems

When I was young, my dad once burst into my sister’s room with a hysterical shriek, declaring, without any evidence whatsoever, that she was using a disproportionate amount of toilet paper and was going to have to find a way to cut down, or face serious consequences.   

It’s unknown how exactly he’d come to this oddly specific conclusion, but once my sister had come to terms with the fact that this wasn’t a fever dream, but a situation occurring in reality, she practically burst a blood vessel telling him to get the fuck out, like any sane human would.

And now, I find myself yelling at my son about the exact same thing. But it’s a little different – he’s four, still mastering the intricacies of bathroom hygiene, and using at least half a roll per poop. Sometimes, he just bundles it all up and mixes it with water, for no reason, creating a thick, impenetrable paste that perfectly blocks the sink.    

See what I’ve become? I am my father, fixated on bathroom utilities, seriously considering the prospect of toilet paper rationing. I spend my days wandering from one household disaster to another, always slightly out of my element, armed with duct tape and a wobbly Ikea screwdriver.

I give people detailed descriptions of the cruel things my children do to me on a daily basis, while they try their best to look as though they give a flying fuck. I just want to go back to worrying about non-dad problems, problems that other people actually want to hear about.

But fatherhood is tough, man. You have this incessant build-up of first-world problems, combined with scary responsible adult ones, and then you get like 3 hours sleep to process it all, until the toddler pays a visit to your bed so he can jump on your head for a bit.  

So, you start to crack. You reach the fractured psychological state that leads to dad jokes. You find yourself muttering Cat in the Hat rhymes under your breath while walking down the street, eliciting sympathetic looks from strangers, and saying, “oh sugar,” unironically, when you drop something on the floor.   

It’s a strange existence, to be sure. And annoyingly, when I complain to my wife, she unloads all of her problems, which involve considerably more stress, considerably less sleep, and to top it off, an insane amount of guilt.

That’s the really crazy thing about motherhood; most of them work their asses off, every hour of every day, and don’t sleep, ever. Somebody always needs them for love, comfort, or sandwiches. And when they finally get, like, half an hour to chill on their phone, they instantly search for a mommy article that chastises them for doing a terrible job, and then they believe it.

They become convinced that they’ve permanently destroyed their kid’s confidence because they don’t brush their hair enough, or give them back massages before bed, or teach them the alphabet before 2, or after 2. Some articles even state, with alarming confidence, that you’re damaging your children’s ability to learn by teaching them to read before the age of seven.

The average mother dips into this swirling cesspit of wildly conflicting opinions, and absorbs the ones that make her feel the shittiest, because there’s always the chance that the 17-year-old intern who wrote it knows more about parenthood than they do, because of that childcare course they took in college.

But when you’re a dad, you don’t feel much guilt. You feel satisfied by just existing. And the world validates you for simply being present, for not running away. I high-fived my kids goodbye the other day and some woman actually chased me down the street, out of breath, to tell me that I’m a great dad. What does she know? I might have beat them within an inch of their lives the same night, all she saw was a damn high-five.

But if my wife looks disheveled, or yells at the kids for being whiny little shits, every other woman in the room will notice, and they shame her with their eyes. It’s pretty intense. But I give my son a kiss on the forehead, and I practically get a standing ovation.

As an added bonus, I never read dumb parenting articles (just write them), so I don’t really feel guilty for giving my kids the wrong kind of eye contact, or whatever. So I guess fatherhood isn’t all that bad.  

But the issue I’m highlighting is an inescapable part of modern-day parenting – (mis)information overload. There are moments when you won’t be quite sure which decision will fuck up your child, so you just have to go with your gut, and sometimes, your gut is wrong.

An old woman, mother of five, once gave me great parenting advice in a bar. She told me that I was guaranteed to make mistakes, massive mistakes, so it’s foolish to strive for parental perfection. You simply have to live with whatever you did to mess up, and trust that your kid is more resilient than you think.

Then, she proudly declared that none of her children had any trouble with the police before the age of fifteen, which, apparently, was meant as a testament to her child-rearing skills. I think. But I met her a few of her kids, and they were really cool, lawbreakers or not.

Point is, parenthood is tough, so go easy on the guilt. Unless, of course, you’re one of those people who makes a Facebook page for your baby.

Then you should feel bad.

The Scary Man



Christmas is approaching, and my 3-year-old son can’t stop thinking about Halloween.  

Back in October, when the macabre decorations invaded the serene mundanity of my neighborhood, my son was instantly intrigued. The once-immaculate lawns and flowerbeds were now littered with plastic corpses, the dull, suburban houses suddenly wreathed in spiderwebs, and bulbous orange vegetables grinned at him from every corner.

The arrival of the twisted oddities frightened and fascinated him equally, as the most interesting things in life tend to. But there was one decoration in particular which really captured his attention, and terrified him beyond reason, known as the “Scary Man.”

The Scary Man was technically a woman, a witch, to be precise. It had a ghoulish face lined with sharp teeth, and sported a wide-brimmed hat which I could slowly lift to reveal “his” hideous features. My son took this particular decoration very seriously indeed, and would refuse to touch it, lest it bite his fingers or something.

But he was also completely obsessed with it, and always demanded that we walk the route that passed it by. At completely random intervals, he would express a strong desire to see it, usually when we were several miles away, at the other end of the city.  

Eventually, he began seeing it in our house. Children seem to develop a fear of the dark as soon as they have the capacity to imagine what horrors might lurk within, and he’d just been provided with a genuinely unsettling visual. Suddenly, he didn’t want to be left alone anywhere, not even for a moment. Our shadow-filled hallway was the official territory of the Scary Man, and required adult supervision to cross.

I felt kind of bad that he’d conjured a personal boogeyman at such a young age, so I attempted to lighten him up by making fun of the Scary Man, or explaining that he wasn’t “real.” But real is a difficult concept to explain to a toddler, so I made a foolish comparison to his toys, in an attempt to prove that the Scary Man had no life of his own.

That wasn’t a good idea, seeing as his favourite movie at the time was Toy Story, and the concept of sentient plastic figurines who move only when adults leave the room didn’t seem far-fetched in the slightest.

Finally, I had the idea of shooting a video of the Scary Man, with a Snapchat filter superimposed over his face, in an effort to soften his image. I chose the animated dancing turd, and shot a few seconds of it prancing over his robes. The video greatly amused my son, but the threat of the Scary Man remained untarnished.

Eventually, Halloween passed, and the decorations started to disappear. I explained brightly to my son that the Scary Man would most likely be gone forever, and was startled to see his eyes fill with tears. He was absolutely inconsolable until I reassured him that the Scary Man would return, one day. I’m still confused to how he felt about the thing.

Once the last trace of Halloween had disappeared, we went on our last pilgrimage to visit the Scary Man, in a bid to prove that he was really gone, and hopefully, erode the fear. My son stood in front of the house, staring at the empty wall with a mixture of relief and disappointment.

He still insisted on checking up on it once in awhile, just in case. Sometimes he would randomly bring the Scary Man back into conversation, speculating that our next-door neighbors had thrown him in the garbage, though I’m not entirely sure why he decided to blame them.

Eventually, the warm glow of Christmas filled our neighborhood, the soft, ethereal lights intriguing him almost as much as the zombies. I figured now was the time to explain the concept of Santa Claus, before he developed any critical-thinking skills.

At the mention of presents, he was excited, and I offered to show him a picture of the rosy-cheeked deity of capitalism. He enthusiastically agreed, and I took a moment to consider what his first impression of Santa Claus should be. Being a modern-day parent with the infinite landscape of the internet before me, I had the luxury of being able to choose any depiction of Santa I could imagine.

I decided that, as stupid as it sounds, the Coca-Cola commercials, with their hand-painted, propaganda poster Santa was actually my favorite depiction of St. Nick, and the one I felt most accurately summarized his role in society.

“This is Santa,” I said proudly, holding the phone out.

He beheld the twinkly-eyed, morbidly obese stranger in utter terror, and I suddenly realized what was going through his mind. He’d just spent a month walking through neighborhoods filled with twisted, demonic creatures, and now, I’d just told him that this grinning, bearded man was about to break into our property and deposit wrapped parcels, for reasons he couldn’t even begin to imagine.

Stuttering, I tried to explain again about the presents, but he held up a tiny hand to silence me.

“Daddy,” he said, firmly. “I don’t want that man in our house.”