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.
You can’t blame older people for not understanding modern tech. They simply can’t keep up with how quickly computers progress. Handing them a smartphone is like if someone handed me the controls to an alien UFO; they recognize that it’s amazing, but they’re probably just going to start pressing buttons and accidentally nuke a continent.
Ok, bad analogy. But you get the point.
And as painful as it can be to see them struggle, a small, sadistic part of us finds it entertaining (as long as you aren’t the one trying to help them “find the Google”). So here are some of our favorite old people vs. technology moments from around the internet. Let their confusion be your enjoyment.
A Kindle as a bookmark for another book? So meta.
Those other buttons didn't do anything anyway.
When mom is the "horribly inappropriate" one for once.
Grandma can't figure out how to change the clock on her phone.
Damn, Grandma Judy.
Nice, 2 for 1!
WILL SOMEONE GIVE THIS MAN SOME DAMN CORN ALREADY?
They're called manners, Benjamin. Maybe you should try them.
When you're here, you're family... but it doesn't hurt to double check.
Here, let me turn up the brightness?
Some puns just aren’t worth it.
My husband is the DFP, the Designated Fun Parent. This was no surprise to me. If you’ve met both of us, it’s clear he’s the fun one. If you’ve met only me, you hope he’s the fun one.
I don’t mind. Especially since I’ve observed, and sometimes been the focus of, her “play.” It’s aggressive and terrifying. Poor Daddy. But he had it coming. He laid the groundwork when she was an infant by tossing her in the air and blowing raspberries on her belly till she exploded with laughter. When she was a toddler, he was the wielder of “the tickle finger.” And he can sigh and act all put-upon if he wants, but no one made him do funny voices. So if he’s now the go-to parent when she’s looking for someone to do Hattie the Hippo from Doc McStuffins, he’s got only himself to blame.
The Husband disciplines her, sure, but not as much as I do. In fact, here’s a mantra we have her repeat: “Mommy makes the rules!” That’s right. Because as Daddy can tell you, I have more of them, and each one has clauses and sub-clauses, and qualifiers.
Daddy is wrapped around her finger. And though you’d think such a position would occasionally prove restful, it does not. Being the DFP is exhausting. The other night I saw him trailing after her in a defeated slouch, muttering under his breath, “Why is she doing this to me?”
And I smiled because I know it’s because she loves her Daddy.
Too bad her love hurts!
Zoe vs. The Universe
Want to share a story about fatherhood? Email email@example.com
Getting out of a speeding ticket is tricky, but not impossible. Whether you’re the guy who always has a believable excuse or just a smooth talker in general, the key is committing to the act. But just how far are you willing to go to get away with it?
It’s important to give your kid responsibilities… but maybe don’t let them name the dog.