When Dravin was a toddler all he wanted to do was play with his action figures.
I indulged him.
As a first time father, who was so poor as a child that I didn’t even have toys, I OVERindulged him.
I didn’t really have a childhood so I wanted to make sure his was amazing.
We didn’t have much money, but every spare penny went to buy him the little plastic beings he loved so much.
Once out of their boxes, they would find themselves in a world they could never have imagined.
They would have to adapt to insane circumstances or be blasted to imaginary smithereens.
Gene Simmons may have looked cool in his box, but his bass was no match for the laser power of Buzz Lightyear.
The T9 from Terminator was pretty powerful with his grenade launcher, but was no match for an entire village of vintage Smurfs, who would devastate Arnold due to sheer strength in numbers.
Lego people were created on the fly to do battle with viking ships sailing the beige carpet sea of his bedroom.
The adventure never ended…
But my patience did.
As much as I loved my son, my attention span for colliding tiny men into each other was about 15 minutes.
I would try to lure him with the promise of video games and fast food, but his dejected expression would cause me to plop back down on the carpet and pick up one of his Buzz Lightyears and say for the trillionth time, “To Infinity and Beyond” and then the wild rumpus would start again.
His beautiful smile would give me fuel for another 5 minutes of these childish antics, but my attention span quickly departed as my feet fell to sleep and my back began to ache.
I would stare off into space and imagine how fun it would be play my guitar or to read a book without pictures, then I would chastise myself for missing out on these precious moments.
“Be here now.” I would remind myself and then would have his over-sized Jessie the cowgirl doll lasso a My Lil Pony to the ground and yell “Ima tame that critter!!”
The adventure continued…
I used to hang out on my porch a lot in those days.
I would just go out there to take a break and play a few chords to get myself centered before going back inside to be Dad again.
My neighbor would always be sitting on his porch and we would do the whole “Hey..how you been?” routine while he sat there and smoked pot.
He would always offer me a hit.
I would always decline and play my guitar.
My father was a junkie, so being a dad, made me even more determined to keep clean.
I needed a clear head to be a parent.
Nothing was more important than that.
I mean I can’t be stoned when I have important daily activities like Action Figure Theater, Scooby Doo Marathon and staying up all night playing The Legend of Zelda – Ocarina of Time w/my 4 year old.
All of these activities required…”HOLY COW!!” I realized. “ALL OF THESE ACTIVITIES WOULD BE SO MUCH BETTER IF I WERE HIGH!!!”
So the next time I became bored with the action figure game I stepped out on the porch, said “Hey..how you been?” and waited for my neighbor’s offer.
After toking for a few minutes I returned back to the bedroom floor with renewed vigor and all new story-lines.
No longer was I dreading The Neverending Story being written in my son’s bedroom, but I was actually looking forward to it!!!
How had I been so preoccupied before?
There were countless stories waiting to be told here.
Murder, romance, espionage, deception.
I began to compose complex Shakespearian plots where no toy was safe and at any moment good could triumph or everyone could just as easily die.
For all of 10 seconds Dravin stared at me wondering “Where is my dad and why has he been replaced by a giant toddler who looks like my dad?” but then he just dove in and playtime would last for hours and wouldn’t stop until we were both doing the pee-pee dance on the floor.
No longer was I fantasizing about my next break.
Instead it would be Dravin who would be worn out and yawning.
“Can we eat ice cream and watch Scooby Doo?”
My reply was always the same “Sure thing little buddy!”
Scooby Doo made so much more sense now!!
We would pause frequently to have in depth discussions about who the villain was and what their motivations were.
I felt the kind of true terror and fascination that only a child can experience simultaneously.
I saw through the eyes of my toddler.
Our minds melded.
We were the same.
Thanks to my neighbor’s wonderdrug I was now completely engrossed in the show, whereas previously I was only half-watching, thinking about bills I had to pay or some news story.
My little boy would fall asleep curled up in my arms and I would lie there exhausted but sober and think about what a horrible father I was and how I was no better than my own father, the junkie who stole my birthday money to score; the man who snorted our rent money and made us have to sleep in the car, homeless, on so many nights.
I lie there with tears in my eyes thinking about how I was a horrible person because I had to smoke pot to be a more attentive father.
I failed to see how I was any different than my own dad who would be so intoxicated that he would take a strap to me for something as trivial as breaking a saucer or dropping a fork.
All I wanted to do was be a good father and yet I was so much like my own.
But the next day I would get bored of playing action figures and I would visit my neighbor again.
A vicious cycle of marijuana, lassos and laser beams.
And it went on like this for a while, until I realized that I could create the same excitement without the pot, just by being completely attentive.
But I cannot fully dismiss the experiment.
This is the part where some would like me to say that I learned a valuable lesson about sobriety and that smoking pot and spending 12 hours a day playing with my toddler, while stoned much of the time was a horrible thing to do.
But I can’t really say that.
It opened me up to the idea that I could be a better dad if I just forgot all the adult stuff I carried around on my shoulders and just let myself be completely absorbed in what I was doing.
And because of that I am at peace with my decision.
Dravin recently asked me, almost as if he couldn’t believe it had really happened, “Do you remember how you used to just sit and play with my action figures with me all day?”
He looked befuddled.
I told him that I remembered.
“Didn’t you get bored?” he said.
I told him that because my parents never spent any time with me that I knew it was important to soak up all the time I could with he and his sister while they were still young enough to actually still want to hang around with me.
I told him that I always knew that those toddler years were fleeting and that even though it was hard to sit and play like that for hours that I knew it wouldn’t last very long and if I didn’t take advantage of it while I could that one day I would regret it and wish I had that time back.
I also told him about smoking pot with the neighbor and how that allowed me to be so into playing with the figures and forget about being an adult.
He laughed so hard he nearly cried.
Buckled over at the waist, he managed to say “Oh my god, I had the BEST childhood!!”
“Yeah, I did too.” I thought. “I finally had mine at the same time you were having yours.”
Hey readers, I just want to thank you SO much for taking the time to read about these crazy adventures and I want to say that you can feel free to comment anything that you want here.
If you think that is horrible parenting go right ahead and speak your mind.
I certainly have battled with a lot of self-judgment because of it, so I totally understand anyone else who would judge me.
The point is that your comments are always welcome.
They help me to do this better.
The most common question I get asked is how I became a single father.
I usually don’t answer, simply because it is such a long answer.
I promise to cover it in a future blog.
On the rare occasion that I do answer it, I get the inevitable follow up question;
“Aren’t you angry with her?” meaning my kid’s biological mother.
Honestly I never had time to be angry about it.
I have been pretty busy the last 12 years, and also I am way too selfish of a person to harbor anger.
I just don’t like the way it feels.
But there is one question that I always ask myself.
And that is, “What the hell am I going to do when Chloe (insert major female right of passage here).”
It used to be “What the hell am I going to do when Chloe needs a bra?”
That turned into “What the hell am I going to do when Chloe has her period?!”
Now I am wrestling mind-bending questions like “What the bloody hell am I going to do when Chloe starts dating???!!!”
Or “How will I stop from murdering a grown man when I catch him checking out my daughter?!!!”
It is not that I am your typical clueless man.
I am a musician and a writer.
I was raised by women.
When I was little I had long hair so people always said what a pretty little girl I was.
I have always been fascinated with the fairer sex, so I spent a good deal of my life studying them.
I have a very small measure of understanding of what it means to be a woman.
But there is still that crippling handicap.
I am a man.
So when a female friend told me Chloe needed a bra (and Chloe was only 10!!!!!) I was annoyed and in complete denial.
When a second female friend told me the same thing, I realized I must be missing something.
I looked at my little girl.
She was just a little girl.
She didn’t have curves.
She didn’t have breasts.
She was my little bacon bit ( her pet nickname from when she was a toddler).
Why were these women seeing breasts when she clearly was just a little girl.
So I asked Chloe…
“Yeah. I’ve been meaning to talk to you about that…” she said.
An hour later we were bra shopping.
I felt bad for Chloe.
I felt like I had failed her.
I had tried to find a woman who would take this role, but I had picked the wrong women.
Or maybe I was just the wrong man and had sabotaged the right women.
I don’t know.
But standing under the harsh fluorescent glare of the department store lights I was exposed.
Exposed for the man I am.
Exposed for the fraud I will inevitably be, when trying to navigate seas I have no business in.
A stranger in a strange land of under-wire protection and push-up support.
Feeling inadequate simply because I AM inadequate and wishing beyond wishing that I had just dated women who loved Chloe and had put my own selfish needs aside.
Double D, C. B. A…drowning in a sea of bras, I thought of the jokes men would make about women’s breasts and I wanted to punch every man in the entire world right in their collective throats. I thought about men looking at my daughter’s chest and objectifying her and every callous, jagged locker-room comment I had ever overheard came swarming back to me 10,000-fold and then when I was right on the verge of panic I heard her tiny voice…
“I like this one” she said.
And she is holding it in front of her.
“I can’t cry. Not here. Cry later. This is about her. Not about you.” my inner monologue rolls on.
Practical dad speaks through me “Will it fit?”
“I think so.” she says.
And with that she slides it over her head and turns around.
I help her to fasten it and think of more callous male jokes about bra clasps.
But I am no longer angry…or panicked…
I am so choked up that my throat hurts.
She straightens it out a bit and I say “How does it feel?”
“Kinda weird.” she says and turns around.
I see now what the women were talking about.
My daughter has boobs.
No. “Boobs” sounds silly.
My daughter has…hmmmm…”breasts” sounds clinical and “tits”…no freaking way does my daughter have TITS!!!
My daughter has…beauty
My daughter IS…blossoming…
My daughter IS…beautiful..
My daughter IS…perfect.
It doesn’t matter what we call them.
They are HERS and SHE can call them whatever she wants.
They are hers and they are her and I have new-found respect for breasts and women in general.
All the books on feminism and college courses on gender did nothing to prepare me for this.
“Chloe.” I say “I’m sorry you don’t have a mom to do this with you. I’m sorry if this isn’t how you imagined it.”
“You ARE my mom.” she says.
And then something flew into my eye.