My Dad is, and has always been, a joker, a real prankster. He was also my hockey coach, so he knew all my friends, and sometimes that led to situations in which I didn’t think he was as cool as he thought he was – or as cool as my friends thought he was.
He was the guy who stuffed candy bars with salt and then gave them to kids on the team, or filled somebody’s pockets with a half dozen eggs when they didn’t pay attention.
My friends still tell me stories like that of my Dad, and while I laugh at the stories now, I also know I didn’t always laugh at them then.
It may be hard to be saint in the city, but I’m sure even The Boss would agree that it’s just as hard to be a cool Dad. It’s a moving target at best.
Last year, I went on a field trip with Son’s class. Son was a little nervous before the trip, though, because I kept telling him about my plans to show his buddies what a cool Dad he had.
“I’ll even pull down my pants and wear my baseball hat sideways, like this!” I told him.
He ran away screaming. I pulled my pants back up, and turned my hat backwards, the way the really cool kids used to wear hats when I was a kid. I promised Son I wouldn’t pull my pants down, and that I’d just make those funny comments I always make on the subway.
“You don’t have to,” he said.
“I can’t help it. You know how it is, I’m a funny guy,” I said.
Son was quiet for a second, and just stared at me.
“You know, you don’t have to try to be cool,” he said.
“But I can’t help it,” I said.
“Sure. Just don’t try so hard,” he said.
We went to the museum, and it was all very exciting. The kids behaved well all the way through it, and I like to think I did, too because since that trip Son’s been a lot more tolerant with me speaking with his buddies. In fact, a few weeks ago, after I’d stormed into their classroom – after class – and shouted, “are you griefing everybody” to Son who was on the couch playing Minecraft with his buddies, I was a real-life viral hit in his class for about three days.
That week, when I came to the school to pick Son and Daughter up, Son’s classmates asked me to yell, “are you griefing everybody here!”
And I did.
I was a little unsure at first, I thought maybe they were secretly laughing at me, but when I saw Son get the cool kid in the class, and asked me to yell that catchphrase to him, too, I got into it. I knew they were laughing with me.
By next Monday, though, my act had worn thin.
“We’re not doing that anymore,” Son told me.
Yesterday, on our way home, Daughter’s classmates stopped her just outside the gates. The two girls were still on the schoolyard side of the fence, two young boys, maybe nine years old, were on the other side of it. When Daughter’s friends saw her, they yelled something about somebody being the cutest something in school. I kept on walking because I didn’t want to interfere.
When Daughter caught up with me and Son, I asked her if I had heard right and that her friends thought I was, indeed, the coolest Dad in school.
“No,” said Daughter, and snickered.
“You sure, because I think I heard them talk about coolest something,” I said.
Son put his arm around me.
“Dad, you know, you don’t have to be the coolest Dad in school. It doesn’t even matter what the other kids think, the most important thing is that I think you’re the coolest Dad in the world,” he said, and gave me a squeeze.
I laughed and tousled his hair.
“Thanks, Son,” I said. “You’re right.”
Then we walked back to the car, talking about this and that, and I don’t think Son even noticed that I flipped my hat backwards.