Gary Fehler or something you find in dirty diaper. We aren't sure.

Gary Fehler

What Wrestling Taught Me About Being A Daddy, Dad, And Father

Gary Fehler

My boy skipped through the hallway at school the day we signed him up for wrestling. I may have skipped too.

When I was young, my father and I snaked up and down the highways of southern California through Saturday morning sunrises, heading to wrestling tournaments here or there. Just the two of us.

He’d kneel at the mat, take my hands in his, shake my arms to keep me loose, talk me through this or that—conversations I cannot recall but have surely repeated to my sons—and then yell throughout the match, “half nelson,” “drive him,” and “cradle.” He would greet me after the match to congratulate me or wrap his arms around me.

Wrestling highlighted for me the differences between being a daddy, dad, and father. “Daddy” is something a child cries out when it is hurt or scared. Dad is the guy you toss a baseball with. The first two are simple.

Playing the father is alien and unnatural. It’s the thing you do when you’re not quite sure what to do, so you try acting out what a sitcom father or self-help book father or maybe even your own father would do—moments when you’re lacking conviction.

The first time I felt like a father was two weeks after my son was born. We were attempting to get him to sleep in his crib, away from us, which required crying himself to sleep. I remember standing at his door. I stood rigid as he screamed his desperate little warble. Everything inside me—my DNA encoded with generation upon generation of daddies—begged me to tear the door from its hinges, rush to his crib, scoop him up, and tell him he was going to be all right. A synapse fired; a thought followed: He has to face it.

My son’s first wrestling match took place after just two practice nights. He got spun around, wrapped up, and pinned so fast he had no idea where he was.

Since then, he’s gone through ups and downs. He’s placed second at a pair of tournaments. He’s whimpered and cried through matches. He ran off the mat during one match because he had to go to the bathroom—maybe part wanting to give up and part stressing his stomach into knots. He cried to me in the hallway. He didn’t know wrestling was going to be like this. He wanted to quit. He wanted to go home. But he had to face it.

My wife and I talked that night. Seeing her son getting beaten up and in tears had forced tears of her own. She wanted him out.

My kid is a whiz in school. He’s not challenged there. The only opposition he faces outside of wrestling is trying to get out of going to bed. Wrestling challenges, frustrates, and even hurts him physically. But outside our home, outside the wrestling gym, parents are getting divorced, children are getting shot for going to school, kids are calling each other ugly. And one day when we’re not hurrying him to or from practice, he may stop and feel these things.

Part of my job is to protect him, and part of my job is to prepare him. Knowing which and when is the hardest part.

At one tournament, he lost his first match but not by much, and he wrestled hard the whole time. His second opponent was already crying before the match began. I told my son before the match, as I held his hands and shook his arms, that anything could happen, that he could beat this kid if he believed he could. And I told him, “Just this once, I want you to be mean.”

First, he got takedown points. Then he got escape points. He got reversal points and near fall points. He beat him. He felt good. The third and final match, he earned his first pin of the season, halfway through the second round to earn a second-place medal.

That night, I asked him how he’d done it, where he’d found that. He told me he gotten mean.

Sometimes parenting feels like a three-way cage match, pitting daddy, dad, and father against each other—different instincts and impulses. Then again, maybe we need all three.

Getting In Tune: Creating Bonds Through Music

(Getty/Rushay Booysen/EyeEm)

I didn’t choose Neil Young’s “Razor Love” or Johnny Cash’s “For the Good Times” because I wanted to make my kids cooler. I simply didn’t know the words and melodies to a whole lot of lullabies. I figured if I could sing something in hushed tones, or better, hum, why couldn’t it be something out of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame catalog? It just sort of happened, and then it happened again with my second son. Now each has a “special jam.”

One of the things I associate most with my father is music. I remember fingering the spines of his records in a hallway closet when I was seven or eight-years-old. I remember my first music purchase, a cassette of Van Halen’s 1984—one of his favorite bands at the time, with my soccer goal money. I remember being grounded for a whole month after pulling the emergency brake of the brand new Pontiac Firebird and ripping a gash on the driver side door, but being allowed to sit with my father for 43 minutes and 38 seconds, listening to The Who’s Who’s Next album—each silence between songs was filled with the things we wished we could say. I remember after my parents’ divorce, being the one kid to choose to stay with my father, and waking to the sounds of his windows rattling to The J. Geil’s Band’s “Musta Got Lost.”

Every year, for either his birthday or Father’s Day or Christmas, I’ll throw something at him; the Black Keys, the White Stripes, the Heartless Bastards, the Crooked Vultures, with the hope I can somehow repay him musically, usually to minor success.

Because of my father, my kids know the words to Chuck Berry’s “30 Days.” They know when to howl to Warren Zevon’s “Werewolves in London.” They also know (probably to my father’s chagrin) when to pump their fists to Bad Religion’s “Requiem for Dissent.”

Years into the future, when my oldest hears the opening line, “I’ve got to bet that your old man…” he’ll remember his father stroking his hair and humming in a night-light lit room. Maybe tears will stream down the face of my younger son as he hears Johnny Cash begin soft and low, “Don’t look so sad…”

I’m not attempting to manufacture melancholy or construct horcruxes of memory, rather I think that having something tangible or audible to bind memories to may come in handy in times of sorrow or struggle, something to remind them that their father is near or somewhere, tapping his foot, thinking of them. A song will remain and hold a piece of us, our time, a car ride, a reprieve from being grounded, a moment of bliss that they can turn to for comfort.

I hope that my children have no trouble remembering me. I hope that there is more to me than music when all is said and done, but I know memories fade far too quickly, and it doesn’t hurt to give them something to which they can anchor fond memories of time with their father.

The Day David Attenborough Ruined My Life

(Getty Images/Mathias Schaef)

Up until a few days ago, I lived a jovial and carefree life with my two sons, tossing the football in the front yard or reading Harry Potter inside blanket forts. That all changed when David Attenborough opened his big stinking mouth.

Recently, my little dudes and I have been on a Planet Earth kick. Every day I come home from work, catch my breath, and then we start Planet Earth II, something we did with the original series a while back.

The original Planet Earth was great. The second installment is more of what works, plus better visuals, like riding on the back of hawks or seeing more snow leopards. Then we get nature in new locations, like “Cities.” We also get a bolder David Attenborough, as each new episode ends with a rebuke directed at dumbass humans hell-bent on destroying the world.

In addition to his boldness, Attenborough gets a little racy in the final episode of the series, when he makes a joke about “sex in the city.” Now, about 80 percent of the show is devoted to some bird of paradise or earthworm trying to get its bone on, but nowhere in the series had the word sex been uttered.

“What is sex?” my seven-year-old son asks.

DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: The father thinks if he sits tremendously still, the questioner may move on.

“What is sex in the city?” my son follows up.

DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: Not this time.

I froze during examination, like that scene from Jurassic Park, like maybe if I didn’t move, we could all just move along. My neck turned 180 degrees like a barn owl up at my wife sitting behind me. We matched “what do we do” looks.

I turned back around and said quietly to him, “We’ll talk about it later.”

Later that night, I whispered to my wife, “What do we do?” This was not a conversation I was looking forward to having, like, ever really. Definitely not before his eighth birthday. But I remember not ever having that conversation with my own father.

I didn’t want to jump the gun or start too soon like we did with Harry Potter—we got stuck on Goblet of Fire shortly after Mr. Muggle gets avada kedavred. But I thought if our kids were going to trust the option to talk to us—something I encourage all the time—we couldn’t just say, “We’ll talk when you’re older,” or ignore their questions. And I don’t really want some second grader explaining to my kid how peeing on girls gets them pregnant.

DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: To be clear, the human male must actually pee in a female to get her pregnant.

“All right, pal,” I said when we were alone. “Remember that question you asked me earlier?” I felt desperate to snake-shimmy out of my own skin. He didn’t remember until I said that word again—sex.

“Oh yeah.”

The plan was to go as far as he wanted to with the query. If he had one question and that was “what is sex?” then I would do my best to offer a first-grade-worthy explanation and be done with it. If he had more questions, I would do the same until he wearied of the topic. I tried to keep things simple—keep things to a Planet Earth, animal kingdom-type description of intercourse: “Sex is something that moms and dads do to have babies,” I said and thought, usually only on dad’s birthday.

“Oh,” my son said contemplating. And he had never looked older in his life. After a pause: “What is it?”

DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: He’s in for it now.

“Okay, bud, well,” I said, “you know boy and girl bodies are different right?” I had to say the word penis and then say, well, you know girls don’t have those. He has a little sister, so he knows.

DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: Haha. Penis.

At this point I kind of just blacked out and said something like “Well, boys and girls have different parts and they use them to make babies.”

He was quiet. I could tell he was a little uncomfortable and confused.

“Do you feel weird talking about it?” I asked.

DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: This young male is ready to move on.

We laughed and wrapped up the conversation. “Well, I just want you to know you can talk to me. If you ever have any more questions, I want you to come talk to me and not your buddies. And I don’t want you to talk to your brother (who is five). He can talk to me when he has his own questions.”

The talk (or chapter one of the talk) was uncomfortable, but it was a good learning experience for us both, and I really think now that we have a good base to build from. Things should only get easier from here.

DAVID ATTENBOROUGH: You could cut the naiveté with a bowie knife.

How Video Games Have Improved My Relationship With My Kids

(Getty/ Future Publishing/Contributor)

I remember getting a Nintendo for Christmas when I was a kid, the old Mario Bros. and Duck Hunt two-pack—that mocking dog. What I remember most is watching my dad—Mr. cool California sports guy—play Mario Bros. What a nerd. Every jump brought his hands from his lap to his chin. And there was a whole lot of jumping going on as he had to smash every single brick, just in case it was hiding something.

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That Nintendo lasted three weeks in our home. My parents said it was because we fought over who would play or because we didn’t do our chores, but I have a hunch it had something to do with Sir Bricks-A-Lot.

I continued to dabble in video games after that. I have a black belt in Mortal Kombat. I still have the highest score in the Warehouse on Tony Hawk Pro Skater. And like everyone else, I think I’m the best at MarioKart, ranging from Nintendo 64 to the Wii—only I really am. Video games are fun to play when there’s nothing else to do, but I have never personally owned a console. That is until now.

We decided to buy our sons a Super Nintendo for Christmas, and it has been really fun watching them watch me play it. We opted for the retro SNES, which comes with about 20 games, because they wanted a console, and we wanted to avoid any type of scenario that involved them sitting down cross-legged in front of a television whispering commands into a headset.

The only game my boysages 5 and 7and I play “together” is Zelda: Link to the Past. We’re averaging about 35 minutes a day. I sit in a chair, three feet from the screen, while they run to the fridge and pick out the coldest Dr. Pepper Ten they can find and then stand directly in front of me, covering the screen with their giant heads, and scream, “You’re gonna die.”

Honestly, they have been helpful. For starters, they remember things. I ask, “Where are the fairies? Where’s the place with the rupees? Where’s my freaking Dr. Pepper?” They don’t forget. And once they found out we could bomb walls or mountains, they’ve been all over that too. Throw a bomb! Throw a bomb! Any time we get a new tool or weapon. “Use the weapon! Use the weapon!”

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I like to think they’re learning from this experience. First, they’re learning teamwork. I play the game. Boy 1 gets the stool for my laptop to sit on. Boy 2 gets my Dr. Pepper. We all shout at the TV. We all high five after knocking out some monster. Another thing they learn is humility. If I can’t figure out what to do in a new dungeon within 30 seconds, they force me to acknowledge my stupidity and urge me to the computer to search the walkthroughs. And finally, I think they learn that their dad is really cool and good at stuff—that’s important.

As of this writing, we’ve journeyed through worlds light and dark, found heart pieces, found that damn buried flute, and finally found out how to save the game without purposely getting killed. I swear I hit SELECT two hundred times before it started giving us that option. We now stand at the entrance of the final castle with our Titan’s mitts ready to punch Ganon right in the nards.

(source – Giphy)

We’ve still got a ways to go—keys to find, swear words to mutter under my breath, deaths to blame on the big heads standing in front of me—but when our 16-bit adventure comes to a close, I like to think that they’ll remember this quest; the three of us, huddled shoulder to shoulder, working together, being buds—a fine return on overpaying for nostalgia.