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Nostalgia engine

Super Mario 64 screen shot

(Thanks to iNintendo.net for the screen shot)

Back in 2004 (I think), I bought a Nintendo 64 game system for $20 at GameStop so I could play it with Charlie and Thomas during their visits. It was the same kind of system they had played on when they were young kids,  so we all experienced some nostalgia as we played again — some of us more than others, I’m sure.

A few months ago, I introduced Jacob (5) to the N64. He is now capable of beating me, and his mom, and his grandparents, and all the computer players, in MarioKart, not always but more often than we would like. Angela saw how much he enjoyed MarioKart, so she ordered two more games, one of which is the classic Super Mario 64. The learning curve of that game is a little steep, but Jacob is picking it up quickly, thanks in part to the vast supply of YouTube videos of people playing the game extremely well.

Jacob shows the same talent and patience for learning these N64 games that Thomas had when he was little — which is saying a lot — and he shows the same kind of excitement in learning the ‘maps’ and how things behave in these alternate universes.

Playing the games with any of my kids brings back memories, but seeing glimpses of the older sons in the youngest one is what really takes me back.


A noisy life

I’m writing this from the place I go every Tuesday evening with my 4-year-old, Jacob. It has multiple playrooms for him, with inflatable ‘bouncy houses’ and slides, foam pits, riding toys and a great crew of employees who supervise the kids and do games and crafts with them. We get dinner here — they have great pizza. For me, there is also wi-fi and a Starbucks counter (or I can get a beer). It is ideal.

Except that it is so loud in here.

I don’t mind the kids yelling — or even crying — but there are these giant pumps that keep the inflatables inflated and emit a constant, loud, dull whir. It’s hard to have a conversation with the people I run into here, let alone get on the phone with someone. And that is a shame because this would be a great time to catch up with my other two sons.

Connecting with either of my older sons when we’re both available is only half the battle. The other half is finding a place where I can actually hear them.

Sometimes I try to talk to #1 son Charlie or #2 son Thomas while I’m on my commute home — but if I’m taking the train, forget it — it’s too loud on the train and on the platform. So whenever I drive, I try to reach them (using a hands-free kit, of course). But I almost always have errands on the way. In stores. Where it’s loud. So I have to hang up before we’re really done.

Plus, my hands-free kit (which I installed myself) has an annoying hum that I can suppress only by putting my hand over one end of the kit. Is it still hands-free if I have to do that?

Calling them from home is not an option before Jacob is in bed for the night. And by the time he crashes, I’m ready to do the same!

Has life always been this loud during every waking hour?

Two men I greatly admire (and not just because they are my sons)

This post — the first in a long time — is not an exploration of the blessings and challenges of recycled fatherhood. It is just shameless gloating. This month, my first and second sons both landed excellent jobs.

To say that I place a high value on my sons’ autonomy would be an understatement, but I’m not just relieved that they have jobs. I’m excited about the kinds of work they will be doing.

Charlie, a recent UCLA grad and a professional musician, started this week as a specialist at the Apple store in Santa Monica. The job has great synergy with his musicianship (in addition to playing bass, he composes and performs electronic music on a MacBook). He called me tonight with a positive report about his first day on the floor.

Thomas, a freshman (political science major) at UCSD, will be a resident assistant (RA) at the university beginning next year. He is the right man for the job, compulsive about helping people and brilliantly inventive in figuring out how best to do it — qualities he has demonstrated as a student council member at UCSD’s Warren College and, previously, as ASB president at his high school. I see lots more leadership in his future.

No pearl of wisdom, no punch line. I just admire these two young men so much, and I want those who come across this blog to know about it.

Twenty-one on none

Confession: I still get a kick out of “Bears on Wheels” by the Berenstains.

It’s one of the first books my parents read to me when I was little.

I also introduced it to Charlie and Thomas when they were little, and it stuck with us. Even today, when I’m with my ‘big guys’ and we see people on bicycles, it always occurs to one of us to blurt out how many people on how many wheels there are (example: “Three on six”).

Recently, it occurred to me that I’d like to share this classic with my preschooler, Jacob. I ordered it from ThriftBooks (always my first resort for buying books online), and it was shipped to my office.

I waited anxiously for the end of the workday, anticipating my son’s giggles at the pictures and narrative of bears falling onto and off of various wheeled things.

Then I started second-guessing my anticipation. Was I being too optimistic? What if Jacob didn’t like the book the way I did? Would I be upset? Why did I want Jacob to have the same kind of experiences his older brothers had? Was this about him or about me and my nostalgia?

Sheesh. It’s just a book.

Anyway, much to my delight, Jacob found “Bears on Wheels” very entertaining and soon began requesting it at bedtime.

A couple of weeks ago, Jacob and I were on a walk and saw two bicyclists pedaling by.

I said, “Two on four.”

He said, “No, it’s not two on four.” (He disagrees with things he doesn’t understand. Don’t we all?)

I explained: “It’s two guys on four wheels.”

“Oh, it is?”

Then we went into the math. “It’s two wheels on one bike and two wheels on the other bike. Two plus two is …”

“Four!” He got it.

Thanks to Stan and Jan Berenstain, I can reinforce simple addition with my son (and eventually  multiplication by two)  every time someone goes by on a bicycle.

If you have never read the book, you probably won’t understand the title of this post, “Twenty-one on none.” But I won’t give it away. It’s best that you discover it on the printed page, as my sons and I have.

What literary gems from your childhood have you shared with your kids?

It's Fatherhood Friday at Dad Blogs. The theme is "Books."

Pet names for our adult children?

I still call my 21-year-old son by the pet name his mom and I gave him when he was an infant. He doesn’t seem to mind, as long as it’s only among family.

I’m sure other parents do this to their adult children, but why do we do it? Are we nostalgic for when they were little?

Which family is his family?

Its Fatherhood Friday at Dad Blogs. The theme is Back to School.

It's Fatherhood Friday at Dad Blogs. The theme is "Back to School."

family_vennFor homework this past weekend, my preschooler, Jacob, was to make a “me cube,” a tissue box wrapped in colored paper and then covered with photos, drawings and information about him. One of the faces of the cube was supposed to feature a picture of “my family.”

I agonized, as I often do, over whether to show his family of three — just Jacob, his mom and me — or his family of five, which includes his much older half-brothers.

About a year ago, when the teachers in Jacob’s previous class asked for a family picture for the bulletin board, we gave them the family of five. But even at that time, it was a difficult choice.

For a while I had been sensing my wife’s need to identify just the three of us as a family in our own right. A couple of years ago during the holidays, I had been putting all five of our names on Christmas cards when my wife, Angela, observed me doing it and asked why I was including the two sons who weren’t under our roof. I hadn’t thought much about it till then; I had just put their names down because they were my kids. But it was kind of illogical to do that — I know I shouldn’t presume to act as my older sons’ representative for things like greeting cards.

Lately, it occurs to me that Jacob probably thinks of his family in similar terms. Mama and Daddy are with him in the house every day, so we are his ‘immediate’ family in the sense that we are the ones in his immediate reach.

Another observation: When people ask if Jacob has any siblings, I don’t just say ”Yes” or that he has two older brothers. Instead, I usually say that I have two (much older) sons from my first marriage. I’m saying, in so many words, ”Yes but not the same kinds of siblings most preschoolers have.” In a way, I am doing it to differentiate between our ‘conventional’ family of three and our less conventional family of five. This seems to give everyone proper recognition for where they are in life.

In any case, a photo of the family of three is now pasted to the cube.

I’d like to hear from others who struggle with which family to identify as the family.


Bah! I’m not paying for college

You know the bumper sticker that says “My son and my money go to UCLA” (or some other university)? I am not qualified to put that sticker on my car.

I have two sons in college, and I’m not paying for either one of them to go. Does that make me a bad dad? (They get aid as part of my veteran benefits, but it certainly doesn’t cover everything, and of course it’s not the same as my paying out of pocket.)

I feel like I’m the only parent in the world who (1) isn’t paying cash for college and (2) isn’t hiding behind the excuse of not being able to afford it.

Yes, I’m divorced from their mother and remarried. Yes, my wife and I have a preschooler. Yes, our expenses are considerable. But my position on paying for college would be the same if I had stayed single after the divorce or never gotten divorced.

Here is my position: Being autonomous is the only way to learn autonomy, and that is a fundamental part of a proper education.

It’s cheap and easy for me to take that position. Some might even call it a cop-out. I don’t care. It’s what I actually believe. And I don’t think it’s a win-lose position.

Its Fatherhood Friday at Dad Blogs. The theme is Back to School.

It's Fatherhood Friday at Dad Blogs. The theme is "Back to School."

One benefit of my ‘cheap and easy’ position — from my sons’ perspective, not mine — is that they don’t (and won’t ever) have to answer to me for how they live their lives. If they goof off and get poor grades, that’s their business. If they drop out, that’s their business. If  they get their degrees and then decide to become monks, that’s their business. If they rack up too much debt during college, that’s their business. Whatever they do with their investments is their business.

In the three years my oldest son has been in college, I’ve never had the slightest inclination to judge how he has spent his time or money. I’ve given him advice, but we both understand that he doesn’t answer to me. I think he is better off because of this, and I think my second son (and, down the road, my third) will be better off, too.

Still, most of the world seems to believe paying cash for college — giving till it hurts — is a sacred obligation of parents.

There’s a whole page at FinAid.org dedicated to trashing parents who, for whatever reason, don’t pay. Here’s a little excerpt:

Some parents feel that they can’t afford to pay for college or are up to their eyebrows in debt. They don’t realize that paying for your children’s college education entails sacrifice. The parents will have to forgo buying a new or second car, clothing or big-screen TV, going on the annual vacation to Aruba, eating out every night, and a few other luxuries to help pay for their children’s education. It won’t be easy, but most families can afford college if they really try.

I know paying for college entails sacrifice. But whose sacrifice should it entail?