Friday, June 18, 2010

Raising the [Kid's at the] Bar

"Hi honey, would you like another!"

A pretty waitress asks one of the boys. I don't know if his eyes were popping out of his head at the size of the girl's chest or the size of the 24oz , filled-to-the rim glass of soda she was serving him. Not sure I care, but it was a rather goofy grin he shot her as he was being served. Makes you wonder...

Thursday night was game 7 of the NBA finals, Celtics vs. Lakers. Does it get any better? No! Of course not! The lackluster Celts against a very talented and cunning Laker team promised to be a battle-royal that would go down to the wire.

Great game, Celtics lost, but I have NO complaints. Really.

But as great as the game experience was, there is NOTHING like being a Dad who takes his three sons 12 and two 10 years olds, to a smoke-filled bar filled to the brim with Celtic fans (in Phoenix? Who knew?!?) and small table of Laker fans (booo!) and lots and lots of less-than-sober fanatics who were chanting "Beat LA!" and "Lets Go Celtics!!" followed by three thunderclaps of either hand-clapping, stomping, or banging the table-tops waaay too hard.

It was awesome!! I gotta' say, having the boys come with me to a fully-packed local bar/pub (we weren't the only groups there who brought kids, btw) was a much better experience than I could have imagined. The boys first realized that their were many other people who acted like Dad does, yelling at the TV, criticising the refs, pumping fists into the air shouting out "oh, C'mon!!" (among other colorful exclamations) at the television when your team doesn't win.

They got all caught up in it, for sure. Yelling at the refs, high-fiving perfect strangers, fist bumping great plays, temporary mind-loss at referee calls that don't go your team's way. The thrill of victory. The agony of defeat. For about $50 we had appetizers, giant hogies and perfectly golden steak fries and enough soda to gas up a herd of elephants.

In the aftermath of that evening, I realized I demystified some things for the boys and shined a light on some things I know they have been curious about. What's it like to be in a bar for a big game? Check. Can people get along even though they are rooting for opposing teams? Yes. Do alcoholics really make a fool of themselves out in a public place? Fo' sho!

I believe it was a great experience for my boys and while I can only hope that the boy's fondest memory was of watching the game at the pub and not at the depth of cleavage shown every time the waitress leaned over to refresh our drinks, regardless, I am convinced at least of this; they went to sleep with a smile on their face.

Any experience that can do that can't be all bad.
Go Celtics!

Monday, June 7, 2010

A hero named "super"

"What hero would you be if you could have super powers, Dad?"

At age 9, I read a story in a FLASH comic book pitting FLASH against an unbeatable, twisted anti-hero named "SUPER" who was an offspring of the imagination of a struggling comic book artist (boy, can I relate to that one!). He materialized when the artist was asleep. The title of the story was "A Hero Named Super." An odd but compelling story about the power of the imagination, which naturally led me to engage my own.

I couldn't believe that at age 40 I had four children genuinely interested in my answer to the favorite hero question. No geek-Dad could be more proud than when his progeny asks such a noble and important question. The answer is immaterial, to me the story lies solidly in the question itself, but the answer(s) were just as telling.

Since age 7 I have been a voracious comic fan, reader and would-be writer & Illustrator. MAKE MINE MARVEL was my slogan as a kid; The AVENGERS, The X-MEN, IRON-MAN, CAPTAIN AMERICA, THOR, NOVA, MS. MARVEL, The Incredible HULK, JUSTICE LEAGUE, GREEN LANTERN and on and on. Couldn't get enough. Cool dudes, hot chicks, laser guns, mutants, bionics, alien invaders, kung-fu, morality, cautionary tales... why every parent and school didn't mandate the reading of comic books, I am at a complete loss. It has everything you could possibly want to catch and keep the attention of adolescent boys. And for the girls? Kick-ass heroines, strong female role models, love triangle, adorable side-kicks just name a few. It's where I learned about classical literature, Oedipus Rex, Dr. Faustus, genetic mutation and female empowerment. No joke!

All this will come as a shock to those who didn't read them. Easily dismissed as silly nonsense or "funny books" as my Mom would call them (no wonder she & I don't get along), comics were seen as a variants of pulp fiction (analogous with soft core adult literature and suppressed or covert platforms of porn in the 1950's which I won't elaborate on here), comics have had, at best, a fringe, cool-shouldered reception in mainstream media. At least until recently.

So, in true parental spirit, I turn the questions on my kids, "which hero do you think I am?" mind you, while far less informed than their Dad, my kids have a far-better-than-average understanding of the super hero universe than most kids or adults for that matter). Without batting an eye-lid, Antonio, one of my twins, blurts out "HULK!" When I asked why here's what I got; "well, you're big and strong, and you're pretty smart but when you get mad, you growl a lot like he does" Guilty as charged. Alex, the other twin chimes in "I'd say Booster Gold!" (Booster Gold is a character who endorses products and wears corporate logos when out battling bad guys) "Because he works in advertising like you." I'm proud of that one. My oldest son, Aaron was up next "I'd say the Beast (a furry blue, ape-like super-agile, super strong mutant who is also a biologist, an inventor and a member of the X-MEN)" I couldn't wait for this explanation; "because he's strong, smart and likes to goof around and plays practical jokes." I sit in dumbfounded awe at these assessments.

Then my daughter, the oldest, brings it to closure "...well, I would have to say Green Lantern." Interesting, I inquire further; "Why baby?"
"Well, he uses his imagination to be creative and to solve problems... kind of like you do in your business." I was speechless.

In their own way, each of the kids had nailed a terribly accurate assessment (although not so sure about the big and strong part) and they were able to assign those traits to fictional characters I have spent my whole life following. It was hard to argue with any of their choices. Proud and honored to have each of them as my kid, I proceed to unveil my answer.

As it turns out, my favorite super hero growing up was the VISION, a long-time member of the AVENGERS, he is tragically cool character. An Android, infused with the Brain-wave patterns of another dead Hero, he was originally engineered to destroy the same heroes he joined and in love with a beautiful Schizophrenic Mutant woman whose nervous breakdown in later years almost destroys the world. A love-sick android built for destruction and death, finds validation through love in a search for true identity. Come on, who can't relate to that guy?

And if you were able to wade through this thick soup of geeky irrelevance, then this one should send you scurrying for the back button: my daughter identified that I was the John Stewart Green Lantern, not the Hal Jordan Green Lantern.

Ah, now that's my girl!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Don't be that kid

"Dude, don't be that kid, nobody likes that kid!"

I have to admit, it's not some random 10-13 year-old talking to one of my kids, it's me. When the kid's level of personal jack-assery reaches the toxicity levels that rival a BP oil spill, I have to swoop in as Dad and set the record straight.

It can be something like eating with your mouth open (a common offense at my dinner table), or telling jokes that are both tasteless and not funny or, my personal favorite, talking over someone who is either still talking or started talking before you did. Whatever the infraction, its on me right the ship.

Now, it's also on me not to take thingstoo seriously, and its easy to forget sometimes that in a multi-child household with varied ages, the younger ones often try to say and do things to impress the older ones. This leads to strange behavior. At least in the Boys, since my daughter is the oldest and I notice less of that kind of thing from her. Its when you see that extreme, almost PAINFULLY embarrassing behaviour comes from them that you feel obliged to step in and say or do something. For their sake and yours.

There was a recent moment when my oldest son started to repeat something he heard another adult say and repeated and I just had to call it out. It seems his grandfather had a particular opinion about the tattoos that NBA players wear these days and shared how disapproving he was of them. I don't begrudge anyone their opinion, but a soon-to-be-12-year-old shouldn't have such a closed mind about such things. So when we were watching a recent NBA play-off game, he says: "... really, with the tattoos? they just look ridiculous." I stopped and stared.

Then said, "Why do you say that?"
"C'mon Dad, look at them, it just doesn't look cool..." Ok, hold the phone, when was the LAST time a 12 year old told you tattoos weren't cool!?! What's next? "Gee Dad, Video games are fun and all but I really see them as deterring me from focusing on my studies." Really?!? What lost-in-the-eternal-ether kid ever says THAT? That's when I knew I was talking to Grandpa. "Dude," I said "don't be that kid... no one likes that kid. Get your own opinion, then feel free to voice it."

I kind of liken taking someone else's opinion to having someone else's baby. Sure, it's ok to hold it, but if you're going to go through all the motions and effort, wouldn't you just want to develop one of your own? You still have to suffer similar long-term repercussions. My kids taking their grandfather's opinion of tattoos is like me asking them what career choice I should consider next. While video game testers and space fighter pilots are cool, they aren't practical. Nor, ultimately, very original.

It may seem that I am putting serious adult commentary on what is seeming to be a harmless little statement about tattoos. For all I know, he simply may be mortified at the prospect of Tattoos, seeing as they involve needles and such but I don't think so. Being your own man is something every boy needs to learn for himself. How he learns it is as varied as the people we meet but in the end I would rather he used the muscle he's got pinched between his ears.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Bullies suck.

"I hate the kids at my school, they're always mean to me!"

What parent hasn't heard this one before? Ironically, it appears that more kids feel this way than not. Which is news to me, since this is the kind of stuff I would say when I was going to school. Elementary, Middle School, High School and even College. New Job? They must hate me! Carrying some deep-seeded, emotionally charged, childhood memories with me into adulthood, I felt the sting of bullying early in my adolescence, too.

These were words I've heard from the mouth of my then 11-year old son, Aaron, who is convinced no one in his school at the time liked him. Going to a fairly secluded, small private school, he believes that every kid in his 10-student grade dislikes him. He claims the other boys, who are taller, bigger, stronger and faster than him all bully him. While I doubt that the situation is as dire as that, I shared a story about overcoming bullying that I thought might be cool to share here, too.

Bullys suck. 

They are a fact of life and in many ways, they are around us our entire lives in some fashion or another. Largely, as TV has taught us, it is how we deal with them that defines us and gets us through their BS. I shared a story with Aaron that helped him put things in perspective.

In my neighborhood growing up, in Boston's affluent Back Bay, there was a little bit of everybody. White kids, Black kids, Hispanic Kids, Asian kids, bi-racial kids, all ages and creeds. When you grow up in a city neighborhood, you experience a lot. The family that lived above us for years had one boy who was three years younger than me. He had a Mom and a Dad who were divorced but chose to live together. The Mom had a live-in boyfriend... and the Dad had a live-in boyfriend. Like I said, a little bit of everybody. It's all good.

About age 10 or so, most of the kids my age started to move away, never to be heard from again, mostly moving out of state or moving too far to stay connected with. There were still plenty of kids but most were either a few years older, or a few years younger. That was OK, I went to school with plenty of kids my age. So weekends, holidays and snowstorms were with my neighborhood friends. Life was pretty good.

Enter Reginald.

"Reg" and his friends, were a small neighborhood click that terrorized me from age 8 until I reached high school. Reg, a bi-racial boy who was tall, lanky and about a year older than me. There was Tyrone, a very scary dark-skinned Black boy who NEVER smiled and Tommy, a HUGE Asian kid, who had to be 250 lbs by age 14. The three of them combined to comprise of my own personal little Axis of evil. This multi-national coalition of local terror would chase me around the neighborhood, take my lunch money, throw ice-balls at me in the winter, fling small rocks via sling shots at me in the summer and generally make my life a living hell, often leaving me screaming in a frenzied panic for my Mom at the top of my lungs.

This scenario continued for years. However, eventually, things changed. I got less concerned about hiding from them (or was it they were too preoccupied with being teenagers to concern themselves with such an easily intimidated target). I got a new set of friends locally and I started lifting weights. 

Now, by no means was I some hulking powerhouse, but after some time in CYA football, YMCA basketball leagues and even a summer in a rigorous sports-based camp for young men in Juvie. [To this day, I'm not exactly sure why my Mom put me in a camp for young felons, as I was far from one myself but I actually loved hanging with those guys and learned how to fight (who am I kidding, learned how to take an ass-kicking) and talk real nasty street slang. Might explain a thing or two about me today]. I also started playing sports more regularly with friends and along with a budding dedication to better personal fitness, started transforming from a pudgy, reclusive, TV-addicted house-slug to a somewhat fit, toned young man who at age 17 was pushing 6' 1". I started working out, weight-lifting, bench pressing... getting big. 

If this is starting to sound like an ABC after-school special, oh just you wait.

Flash forward to the summer 1986. I just graduated high school and I was accepted to the school of my dreams, The Massachusetts College of Art and most importantly, at least to us at the time, the Celtics had just beat the Lakers for their 16th NBA Championship! Everyone was jazzed up to hit the city courts and show off their best street hoops moves. I was with a few of my hommies, waiting to play in a pick-up game at one of our favorite little basketball courts, a little single hoop, side-alley court on the campus of Northeastern University tucked in-between the 6-to-8 story brick-faced dorms. There were three things that made this court an all-time favorite with us. 

First, it was shaded, so playing in the summer wasn't unbearable as it got no real direct sunlight. Second, while it hosted it's fair share of giant young college dudes showing off their moves, the real draw was the Northeastern Co-eds who would show up and watch the boys play. We loved beating some the college boys to try and impress these young women that were clearly WAAAYY out of our league. But the most attractive feature to his court was the fact that it was a single rim mounted to the side of a 150 ft. brick wall. This made layups rather interesting. Resourceful young urbanites that we were, it didn't take us long to realize that just one or two steps off the wall at the right speed and angle, and you had all the air-time you needed to dunk. Especially in a game when someone else didn't know about it. My heart races just thinking about all the off-the-wall dunk contests we used to have. [sigh].

So one weekend afternoon, my fellow wall-dunkers and I are playing against some Northeastern University boys and a scrawny young guy, not quite 5' 10" comes along and asks to play. I pay him no mind. Two of my guys and I (all of us were between 5'10" and 6' 5") are waiting on the sideline to play next.

"Arthur?" The guy says. I turn and what do you know–it's Reg. It appears while I was pushing on to what would become a healthy 6' 2", 250 lb. frame, well... let's just say Reginald didn't quite continue to pursue an athletic, muscle-building lifestyle.

In my iciest low-toned voice I say; "Hey Reg. Haven't seen you in a while–what up?", the suppressed trauma of a thousand ice-balls to the back of the head and countless afternoons without lunch flooding my consciousness.

"I got next!"
"Wow dude, you got BIG!" He says, looking up at me. 

I grinned.

"You got next?" I add? He replies; "Yeah, let's see what you got. Go easy on me ok?" I couldn't help the next few words. "Oh, just go ahead and start some s**t now Reg..." He smiled a nervous smile. I saunter over to my crew and let them know I need to take the lead on scoring in the next game. They just nod. 

Then, it's game on.

I match up with Reg and post up on him scoring a couple quick shots, shooting over him as though he weren't there. My teammates were all very good so we had no problem man-handling Reg and his two random teammates. And then it was time to bring it home. With Reg guarding me, I took the ball, dribbling around him and one of his guys. He runs to catch up and tries to stop an obvious coming lay up, stepping back assuming the giant wall will do something to help his cause.

I swear, I still see the next event in my head in slow-motion like an ending to a bad 80's movie...

Like Spider-man, I run up along the wall, leap away and power a two-handed dunk through the rim that knocks Reg sideways and has him reeling in a dumb-founded stupor. "Holy s**t!!" he stammers, trying to keep his footing. The game ends quickly and he wanders off. I must say, it was one of my life's greatest little victories.

That brings us back to the story at hand. The message to my son was clear. If you just keep your wits about yourself, stay upbeat and plow through the tough times, you just might live to see the day where the tables are turned on the very people who make our lives miserable. It remains to be seen what Aaron's true take on the story will be, but he was entertained and was relieved to hear his Dad had gone through similar circumstance and came out on top. While revenge is not something I want him to fully embrace, there is no shame in allowing a single, vaguely cynical smile to cross your face when payback becomes a bee-yotch for your nemesis

We can revel in such events in our lives. We are, after all, only human.
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