How to Be a Dad

How to Be a Dad

Time Machines

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Time Machines: Not just for Doc Brown anymore

Parenting is a lot like being drunk.

Certain things jump into extreme focus. No one sounds legitimate about anything they’re saying. There’s puking and crying. You stand there, in a daze most of the time, and wonder if anyone knows just what they’re doing. It’s a stark truth I came to last week.

Charlie holding his son Finnegan.PHOTO BY TAMI BAHAT PHOTOGRAPHY. The striped boys. Bearded lingerers in the back: Andy Herald (L) and my brother, James (R).

When my son turned two a couple of weeks ago and we had his party the following weekend, it was obvious to me that the guests of both the parent- and non-parent varieties were scrambling. Much like the rest of us, scrambling seems to be the in-thing these days. All the cool kids are doing it. Everyone’s out of work or out of time or out of luck. It’s rough. But my favorite part of scrambled dregs, the part I seem to do so well, is the bullshitting about the status of things. “Everything’s good” or “we’re fine” or the like dominate conversations. No one’s willing to talk about how hard it’s gotten. The social replies outweigh the need for help. That’s why my replies have become drastically more ironic. I’ve become the court jester of the status quo: “I’m doing horribly,” or “I just sold my sweat glands for cash,” or “I think my balls are going to fall off, the economy is so bad. I have economic testicular leprosy.”

Have we all evolved that far beyond our own parents, that we aren’t worried anymore? Is it worth that much to pretend? Really? Most of our parents probably didn’t levy the full shit-i-tude and precariousness of the circumstances they overcame. I’m sure some did, but I know for my family, it was a struggle day in and out, that my mother heroically tried to keep separate from us. I remember searching for coins in the couch. We sold our toys to buy new ones. I can vividly recall the feeling of throwing bottles into the dump near San Francisco when my mother was distraught over my father. It was our outlet in those days. And it cost nothing.

A single mom with two boys? I have one boy and my life is filled with questions about how I’m going to pull it all off. Maybe if I could travel back in time and actually see how things were for my mom, for other parents, I would see that times weren’t so different. Economic meltdown. Check. Looming anger of military actions? Check. Parachute pants? CHECK. Wait, WHY THE HELL ARE PARACHUTE PANTS COMING BACK IN STYLE? Someone needs to phone MC Hammer and tell him to do a press conference urging people to stop this trend. And where are all the hover boards? But I digress.

Doc Brown was almost killed by Libyans. He was pissed.
Believe me, I’m not looking for a pat on the shoulder. I’ve probably had too many of those if I’m going to be truthful. Equally, I’ve had too many people tell me I’m not cut out for stuff. It’s a funny place to have arrived, the place I sit now…

…which leads us to our shared little moment right now. Are you looking for a time machine so you travel forward or backward? Where would you go: the past of the future? I know my choice. More to the point, why are you reading this blog? What do you want to see here?

I know what it’s doing for me. I’m enraptured by it. Obsessed. I love that you come here. That you comment. That you follow us on Facebook or tweet us on Twitter. And, for the record, it’s not an ego feeder when you do any of those things. You’re feeding my desire for connection, my enjoyment of the commerce of human interaction. I can travel, not in time, but in space, and as far as this website can go.

Thank you for that.

Who the f*ck is cutting onions in my living room? I think I got something in my eye.


29 Responses to “Time Machines”

  1. the muskrat says:

    My “forward” or “backward” answer depends on the day. Sometimes, I’d love to jump forward a few months or years, til my kids are less of a pain in the ass (because there is a magic age at which they do exactly what I want them to do, right?). Other times, I’d like to go backward and buy a few stocks and place a few bets, like Biff did.

    When I’m being rational, however, I realize the best place to be is right now. Like Van Halen said.

    • charlie says:

      Best music video ever. And by that I mean not that great.

      I’ve often thought about superpowers and time travel is definitely high on my list. Maybe it’s the observer in me or maybe I just feel like fixing a couple things. Future or past.

      Maybe I just watched too many episodes of Quantum Leap.

  2. Emily says:

    The nostalgic person I am, most days I’d rather go back. Go back to a time in my childhood where I wasn’t really aware of the real world and spent the days doing macaroni art at school and evenings arguing with my brother and watching Home Improvement with my family. I liked those days, and sometimes I yearn for them only to forget about the responsibilities that make me an adult.

    As for why i come here… I love the blatant honesty about parenting (and life… see above), all tied in with humor. I learn from it, or I can relate to it, and it makes me, too, feel somehow a little bit more connected ๐Ÿ™‚

    • charlie says:

      It’s easy to look back and play Monday morning blogger, I guess. The past is one of those things you can use to steady yourself. The future is a blank etch-a-sketch. I wonder if most people would choose to go back instead of forward.

      And what that says about us? ๐Ÿ˜‰

  3. Monica says:

    I would love to go back in time for certain moments to re-live time with my mom and dad who are now in heaven. I would love to go forward if just for a moment to make sure that my family will be okay, but I would never want to go back and re-live my whole childhood. I would never want to go forward and miss time with my family now. My son may not want to sleep much, but he is only little once.

    I love checking this website and facebook to read the newest posts. You guys are honest while being funny and its nice to know we aren’t alone. Its also nice to laugh at moments that seem difficult like not sleeping. I would miss you guys if you left and didn’t want to do this anymore.

    • charlie says:

      Youโ€™re most definitely not alone. Weโ€™re all in this together. So, go ahead and laugh at us, not even WITH us. Someone deserves to laugh at how ridiculous we are. Woo hoo!

      Yeah, we try to put stuff on Facebook that’s separate but equally rad.

      We miss would miss you too if you didn’t comment and read our stuff. Believe me, we’d know!

  4. Svea says:

    Sideways. I want to travel sideways. Where its the same but simpler. Decent jobs, intelligent housing and communities with smarter approaches to life. People know what empathy and passion are. Oh and we all get 6 weeks off a year mandatory because it’s healthy.

    Why do I spend my free time reading your blog? It’s the best thing ever. It makes me laugh and you get it.

    That is all. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • charlie says:

      Sideways is a big ticket item, isn’t it.

      The best thing ever? Annnnndddd you made me want to keep going another week.


      That is all. ๐Ÿ˜›

  5. mikey says:

    Things around my house (ok, one-bedroom apartment) are pretty tough financially speaking but I wouldn’t go forward OR back. I’ve got a one-year old son and the time before we had him is so much less awesome, and I don’t want to fastforward and miss him growing up.

    I work very long hours, but also have a lot of downtown to be bored and miss my boy. Love reading this blog because the happy failures in life are the best and thinking of my own makes me miss him just a little less.

    • charlie says:

      I think, in your case and probably mine, I would take my family IN the time machine with me. That way, we could at least stop be slaves to time. I know everyone’s end is supposedly eventual, but at least we could explore together. Our pasts, our futures. It would be a real adventure.

      Thanks for reading, Mikey. It means a lot. Glad we’re able to help, even if we didn’t intend to… ๐Ÿ˜‰

  6. MrClean says:

    I like the idea about going sideways! The different reality type of thing where i am not traveling 52miles each way to work (through Boston rush hour traffic mind you) and thus not getting enough time with my 3 week old (yesterday) first son… I call it a necessary sacrifice due to not having much of a market for video editors/graphic arts guys/gals in the Boston area, but man a different reality would be great! I wouldn’t want to go backwards or forwards because then I wouldn’t have my son, or would miss all the fun things while he grows up (unless I can bring the family with me?)

    As for why I come to this blog, it is so I can be prepared for the future upcoming events of having a child… Such lightheartedness is always worth taking a couple minutes out of my day to browse through. Love this site!

    • charlie says:

      The sacrifices we make. It’s crazy what I thought my priorities would be and what they’ve become. It’s hard to know what they are before you’re there. That’s for certain.

      We’ll keep pumping out posts if you keep reading, good sir. You’re a gentleman and a scholar.

  7. taylor says:

    Times are hard man. Grad school stipends are hard to live on, especially with a new family. I find myself working all day and tutoring at night just to afford health insurance for us. Keep a chin up. Things will get better. And, for what it’s worth, I think it’s not necessarily a bad thing to grow up poor. My dad was really, really sick growing up and all he did was odd-jobs and install the occasional stereo at our house for income. My mom made our clothes. We were poor, but we didn’t know it and we were really happy. Life’s about more than stuff.

    love the blog, thanks for adding a smile to my day.

    • charlie says:

      Dear Mr. Grad School,

      You too, keep on fighting the good fight. I can’t imagine what that must be like. Oh wait. I can. It’s not dissimilar to my own struggle. ๐Ÿ™‚ The lack of resources were never an issue unless it had to do with getting a new toy or other kids doing or having certain things. I think I needed to write this post to remind myself how generally special and happy childhood was regardless of a lack of stuff. My wife and I come from similar backgrounds as kids. It’s probably the reason why we both have too many toys for a kid that just turned two.

      Glad we could make you smile. Thanks for taking the time and writing a comment.

      • Judy says:

        One quick comment Charlie – you mention having ‘too many’ toys for a kid who just turned 2. Although your lack of ‘things’ as a child may leave you wanting to do so much more for your son, remember this. It was learning to do without. It was learning to improvise, to find ways to “EARN” the money for the things you wanted, and the depth of perception you attained by seeing what you wanted and having to figure out how to get it…. or the resignation and acceptance you had to learn when you didn’t get it. These things build character. These things helped to make you the amazing person you are today. Don’t deny Finn of learning some of those lessons, of the self esteem and pride he will gain from fulfilling some of his ‘wants’ on his own. Mom and dad should fulfill his physical needs and teach him to love. Also teach him discipline. Also teach him what it means to do without, how to improvise and how to work towards a goal. Yes, even as a preschooler these lessons can and should be learned. Too many of today’s kids believe their are entitled to everything with no effort (toys, phones, grades, etc) because too many well-meaning parents haven’t wanted their children to struggle or experience disappointment when these are two of the most important character-building experiences of life.

        Sorry sweetie – this wasn’t exactly a ‘quick comment’, was it. Just some ranting from an old woman who has lived several decades and has this crazy idea that she may have learned something along the way. I wish all of you moms and dads who will struggle with raising their kids in this crazy world the very best of luck. I hope you can teach your children how really unimportant material ‘stuff’ is. They already possess the greatest gifts of all – innocence, imagination and the love of their friends and family. ๐Ÿ™‚

        • Judy says:

          Sorry about the typo – that should read believe “they” are entitled. Been typing too long tonight. ๐Ÿ™‚

        • charlie says:

          Comments on here don’t have to be quick, Judy. ๐Ÿ˜‰

          I agree there’s a balance to be made between teaching people to use what they have to the fullest and making sure you provide everything that’s needed to grow as well as possible. I feel that I shift between the two myself. My mother started making great money as we grew up, so we were able to move out of that lifestyle when I hit my teens. We weren’t rolling in it, but we could afford some nicer things, here and there.

          I guess I’m a bit of a dichotomy now because of it. I’m not comfortable in opulent settings and receiving extravagant gifts/experiences, but I don’t want to starve and for the want of having nice things eat me whole.

          • Judy says:

            And therein lies a crucial key – moderation. I think I know enough about you to know that you have the wisdom to teach your children well.

            And I very much appreciate this venue where I am able to climb up on my soapbox now and then. ๐Ÿ™‚ Hugs. Continue to do great things…

  8. Jamie says:

    Hahaha I love when people compare things to being drunk lol. I am a really new follower, but the thing that drew me to this blog – they’re hilarious! I love to laugh. :o)

    For Love of Cupcakes

  9. MommaAmanda says:

    I am in the same position. Apparently it is ok for women to stay home and hold down the forte. To be honest I gave up on the job front because we got use to being broke. I am one car down and carless most of the day. We always just say well at least you have a job. To be honest this isn’t ok with me. My job wasn’t about money as much security blanket. I knew I could take care of my own.

    • charlie says:

      I totally understand that. We’ve made many concessions and had many sleepless nights burning the midnight oil. But at a certain point, we have to know that our security derives from our ability to make things happen, to produce effects and create things. Our security is, to a large extent, auto-generated.

      I hope you find the lifestyle you want. Lord knows, we’re trying to do the same thing too.

  10. Patti says:

    Completely independent of the whole time machine topic, may I just note, (and this from a 55 yo woman) that you, Charlie are so many kinds of fine, and as has been said repeatedly, your babylu is adorable, and getting cuter every day.
    In fact, I think I’ll bookmark this so, on crappy days, I can come back and get another hit. It’ll be like, and anti-depressant. Yeah, that’s it… And on the issue of the unbelievable crappiness of our times, I hear you. And this from someone who was po’ folks, too. In 5th grade, (single) Mom got me a new outfit, which style those of my gen will remember: the newly introduced fabric, polyester, made into stretch pants, with the sewn in crease in front and stirrups at the bottom, with a matching striped, long sleeve shirt. And in my favorite color, Royal Blue. Both halves went together, a rarity, and I so, so loved it. Wore it to school, and making this great day even better, it was my turn to take the ball out to recess. Double yayyyy!!! Unfortunately, we got tangled on the way to the playground, I fell, and skinned both knees. Right through the pants. Ruined. First day out of the house. I was crushed, and sobbing. They took me to the office, and the secretary was trying to comfort me, and said, well your knees will be ok, etc, and I can remember heartbrokenly sobbing that it was my new pants! And she said, well, your mom can get you a new pair, and I said, no, no, no, we can’t afford a new pair. I just knew it already, even at that age. And that’s pretty much what we are all living through now. And, it really sucks.
    So, it’s really great to have a link to an anti-depressant picture. Sigh. Thanks. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  11. Elizabeth says:

    Being a parent of now two older children (26 & 21) I would love to go back in time with some of the knowledge that I have now, wouldn’t we all, but I would love to tell my self back then to enjoy the kids more, and just having them around when they are little is so much fun! I sometimes find it very hard to look at all the old photos, because I get to misty eyed, and wonder how time goes by way too fast. I think I like coming on your blog because it takes me back kind of, if that makes sense. Watching others raise little ones, and seeing how much different, or the same things are now.
    I’m always amazed at how things never get easy or simple, just different. My husband has been laid off since April, and I feel like we are back in time in our twenties, wondering what is going to happen, except there just isn’t that big future in front of you like you use to have. I know a lot of people are hurting with no jobs, but man…how did we get here, is what I keep telling myself. You struggle, do all the college stuff, for what!
    So, even though you are in a different time in your life from me, I still see the same struggles, just different things come into play I suppose.

    I love your writing style and sense of humor, it lets me escape for a bit. Keep it up!

  12. Haether B says:

    Love you, too, Charlie. If it weren’t for blogs like yours reminding me that I’m not the only one that finds parenting, for better and worse, beyond my wildest imaginings, I don’t know what I’d do. Thanks for the connection and for sharing the humor in being honest about it all. Cause what else can we do but laugh, right?

  13. Cindee says:

    I’m not as interested in time travel as I am in teleportation. Why do I spend time on your blog? Because you’re exactly what the husband and I are looking for–parents who take parenting seriously while still seeing the humor in everything about raising a kid.

    I’ve avoided most mommy blogs, mostly because of the rage I feel when I read about these bloggers getting free merchandise in exchange for posting reviews. I want free baby stuff, dammit, we’re permabroke.

    I do read two parenting blogs on our local newspaper site. One is written by two reporters who happen to be moms. Their posts are good, but the commenters are awful–mostly smug comments on how the way they do things has produced the most perfect children ever–i.e., “my child doesn’t cry when he gets immunizations because I bought a toy doctor’s kit and we practiced and talked about it and read a book about it”. Hey, congratulations on teaching your kid to repress their emotions. That’s an important life skill.

    The second is a blog written by a new dad, and honestly, he’s just a dumbass. He wrote a diatribe about how offensive it was that the little toy figures in his daughter’s play set were referred to as “chunky” on the packaging–he had about 20 comments explaining that “chunky” equates to “easily held by toddlers”, not “chubby”. Another post was about a family he saw eating out in a restaurant–they had a child who looked about 5 who was put in a high chair and fed rice cereal. The kid was too old for that, he thought. Most comments were about the various developmental problems and medical issues that would explain it. Both he and his wife went on the defensive, dismissing the idea that there might be a valid reason for this kid eating rice cereal. I just hope the parents of that kid didn’t read his blog.

    My family has a history of finding amusement in the heaviest aspects of life-family funerals, cancer treatment, losing my job for the third time in 10 years. I’ve thought of it as an “Irish” trait–the Irish seem to have a knack for black humor, and its not just a coping mechanism. It shows you’re loving life. You and Andy do that. Thank you.

  14. DadOfTwoBoys says:

    I think I would like to travel back in time to see how my parents did things with my brother and myself. As much as I try and remember, there are flashes of memory from my childhood that come together more as I got older. I remember every situation from the perspective of a child. Now that I have children of my own, I wonder how I would view those same situations.

    I had a feeling I would realize what I already know, that my parents did everything they could whenever they could for my brother and me. I just think it might give me some insight into how I can do what I so drastically want, which is learning how to live up to what they did for me.

    I definitely would not travel forward. I wouldn’t want to miss a moment oft kids’ lives. Even the hard parts.

    I already thought your blog was amazing, and I check it everyday since I discovered it a few months ago. Your references to Back to the Future, though, have raised this blog to a new level of epic-ness. Keep it up.

  15. Ron says:

    I’d go into the future to get my hands on a Gray’s Sports Almanac.

  16. Adrian says:

    Love reading your columns, really it makes it better for some of us who lost our parents before being full time parents ourselves to learn how others cope, thank you for that!

    I personally would like a going back machine. It’s not that I wouldn’t like to check on my future family, but some days I get so worried about being a human catastrophe that it would scare me to see that be true, or worse, turn into who I always feared I would become, a detached father that can’t cope (long story, bad parent figure back before the divorce).

    I want to be able to go back and see from a different perspective HOW my parent’s coped. Talk to them and see how they felt, they were able to keep some things from me (great actors parent’s at times!) but other times I could see behind the veil and I know they could use the talks, or more to the point, I could use the insight now.

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