I’m Becoming My Parents

I am going to start frequenting McDonald’s again, very soon. I haven’t been to one in years. Actually, it’s been decades since I’ve felt any kind of warmth towards the oppressive and insidious fast-food chain. Yet, already, I know I am going to love it.

It’s true, I used to hate it.

But times change. People grow up and gain new perspective.

They have a baby, in fact, and find themselves in a sea of hip cappuccino bars and pocket-sized restaurants with leaky washrooms, unable to find a single sympathetic or welcoming face peering up from a second-hand book about Nietzsche, or the latest issue of McSweeney’s. It’s amazing: young trendy people are most likely to support public breastfeeding, however, they are the least likely to actually want a woman to sit beside them and breastfeed.

My hatred of all things Ronald wasn’t always the way. As a child, McDonald’s was a second home. That, and Ponderosa, with its all-you-can-eat salad bar. The story goes that I was once a skinny little kid with very picky tastes. The Big Mac, as it turned out, saved my soul and fattened me up to the relief of my parents. From then on, it was a Big Mac and large fries for me every Friday night, at least until I became a teenager.

That’s when I began to hear things about anti-foaming chemicals in the Chicken McNuggets, and how the 100% pure beef patties were processed by a company actually given the name 100% Pure Beef Inc. It was then I began to seek sustenance elsewhere. Amazing: as a teenager, I would smoke cigarettes and raid my parents’ liquor cabinet on a weekly basis. I would often get in at 4:00 AM and get up at 6:00 AM for work. I would, in essence, punish my body on a regular basis, yet I was squeamish and morally outraged over the quality of the meats at MacDonald’s.

It wasn’t just that though. To me, McDonald’s was a family restaurant. And to me, family meant two things: boring and predictable. I couldn’t understand it. Why didn’t my parents ever do anything fun or spontaneous? Why did they watch so much TV? Why did they go to bed earlier and were always worried about money and were obsessed with buying things? Why couldn’t they be more like Robin Williams character in Dead Poets’ Society, and a little less like that hardass father in the same movie who stops his son from becoming a theatre actor and living out his dream? Why were my parents so boring?

It took becoming a parent to figure this out. The answer to why my parents – through my jaded teenage-eyes – were never very spontaneous, I could have learned by looking into any mirror.

I have a six-month old, and I haven’t done anything spontaneous in six months.

That’s not true. We did something on the spur of the moment about two months ago. And on that dark we learned about the dark side of spontaneity. We went for a walk on a cloudy Sunday and strayed a little too far from home. We soon found ourselves in Greek town in the pouring rain. Of course, all the cafes were full, so our only choice was a little sushi restaurant.

At the start, everything was fine. It was just like the old days when Lisa and I would sample sushi and grimace (well me, anyway) when any adult with a child would venture into the establishment. Ava, at first, was behaving so well (“She is so cool!” I thought), we ordered the buffet special. You know, the one with the strict rules about having to pay regular price for any un-eaten items and not being about to take anything home in a doggy bag?

Right after we ordered, the melt-down occurred.

We spent the next twenty minutes, taking turns walking Ava to the bathroom and back between trying to stuff our mouths with as much sushi as our chopsticks could carry. In a blink of an eye, we had become THOSE people with the screaming kid in a cool hip restaurant. The exact kind, as a young hip twenty-something, I would looked at with cold unwelcoming eyes and thought: why don’t you act your age and quit trying to relive your youth!

It was that during that afternoon that I finally understood who my parents were being “boring” for. Before we had Ava, whenever I was posed with the question “what would you do if you had only six months to live?”, my immediate response was to travel the world and have as much fun as possible. Now, however, six-months into parenthood, my response is to simply work my butt off in order make sure our kid has a secure future, and during the downtime, do whatever she wants to do, even if it means spending my last few days on earth going to Mcdonald’s, Ponderosa, and just about any Chinese restaurant.

On Turning 37

Yes, I am that old. I’m terrible at math, so it took me a minute to do the calculations, but yes, I’m turning thirty-seven in a few days. As a university buddy commented on Facebook, “18 years old, was 18 years ago”. Wait a sec….holy cow, I’m even older than THAT. Man, I am TERRIBLE at math (you wonder how I am the one who does the bills in our house).

I am always forgetting how old I am – and I think it’s because I hang around younger people who haven’t realized that I really don’t understand what the hell they are talking about, and that what I’m really thinking when they are going on and on about the environment and apartheid and baby seals is: get a job, hippie. My wife is their age, and I’ve come to realize that it’s often better to let her do the talking now. I usually have to defer to her when it comes to the new lingo. Apparently it’s no longer cool to say get jiggy with it or to even break dance, for that matter. Yep, all about irony these days…

My forgetfulness could have something to do with not children of my own. Not that I have anything against having kids; my wife and I are planning on having an ankle-biter or two in the near future. (It’s only a matter of time. I’m Italian, she is Chinese; can you ask for a more potent combo?) It’s just that watching friends survive for months at a time on power naps and car-crying, I am often witness to the mental and physical effects of pushing the limits of one’s mind and body. As one father of two pointed out to me the other day: There’s a bottom to this. You can only get so tired. To which I promptly responded: Dude! We went to this awesome Karaoke Bar last night and stayed up to watch the sun rise! It was awesome! Why didn’t you come? Thus learning that when you are around the newly-parented, never ever mention any place more exotic than Walmart.

(Speaking of which, profile pictures have been budding baby faces for some time now. It’s as if all of my high school and college friends have grown really really cute second heads, or they have chosen careers in ransoming children)

As you plainly see, for the most part, parenthood to me has remained abstract, viewed from a safe distance. My exposure to it has been kept strictly to the showroom level. When a child misbehaves in my company, he/she is taken to another room by one of the parents (this fills me with an extraordinary sense of importance, which is why I like visiting my friends in the burbs. I always leave feeling like Caesar)

At 37, I can’t say whether a childfree status is the average these days, or if it is evidence of MPPS, otherwise known as Male Peter Pan Syndrome, where the subject demonstrates a reluctance to sacrifice some of the benefits and freedoms of having no kids: going to bed and sleeping in late on weekends; going to bars and nightclubs; taking off at a moment’s notice on long road trips; watching racy movies at home; wearing only underwear around the house etc.

Then again, I am a cantankerous, straight-laced curmudgeon – as my wife calls me – and it’s not like I actually DO many of those things anyways. I’ve always hated nightclubs, or any place you have to line up for an hour to get into, then spend the rest of the night screaming across a miniature table. In fact I’ve never liked any place that plays live music, even. Well, why should I have to wait until the band takes a break before I can talk to my friends? The band should just play their music at a reasonable level, for god’s sake. Really, just give me a nice, quiet pub where I can bitch about the current state of affairs. Or better yet, give me a quiet porch or balcony where I can drink wine, smoke, and bitch about the clothing – or the lack thereof – of the youth these days. (And that’s what I usually do. When my regular drinking friends aren’t available, there’s nothing I like better than to attend parties of my wife’s light-drinking friends, where I pick a nice little corner, drink too much red wine, hold fascinating conversations with myself and eventually fall asleep) Hmmm…given this new information, it could very well be that I suffer from GOMS, or Grumpy Old Man Syndrome. Thinking about it, I AM very protective of my front lawn, I’m always losing and forgetting things, and I have a tendency to pull my pants up above my belly button.

Really though, at 37, it’s most likely that I am stuck somewhere between Adbusters and Old Miser’s Monthly: while I am dreadfully mistrustful of private enterprise and deregulation I think that everyone under thirty years old should be in the military or in prison, or until they realise that most people don’t want to share a doobie on the floor of a hippie commune in the Okanogan Valley. I’m at this place where a number of opposing fronts – rosy idealism Vs. grim reality, the delight of personal freedom Vs. the fulfillment that comes with responsibility – are colliding, and I can’t quite tell what the forecast will bring. What I do know is that, though there is always the temptation to glorify the past – college and high school days – nothing is a remotely interesting as what is happening now and what lies ahead.