Unfit Father

Published on May 24th, 2017 | by Richard Black


Summer the Way it Used to Be

“Summer is coming” I whisper to myself with all of the grim certainty that Eddard Stark mentions the same sentiment about winter in Game of Thrones. With the end of school there will be long hours to fill. There will be camps to attend and playdates to arrange. More than anything however there will be boredom and tedium and even more boredom particularly on my daughter’s part. I’m a traditionalist that way.

I grew up in the 1980’s when summer vacation was synonymous with boredom. The only reason kids went outside in the 80’s was because indoor entertainment wasn’t all that great. Gaming systems like Atari, Intellivision and Coleco were just making their way into the mainstream but were fraught with disappointment. Games were expensive and had a replay value of precisely 30 minutes at which point they simply sped up to the point that a cyborg on meth couldn’t keep up with their pace.  Others were simply impossible from the start or just plain dull.

Remember cartridge games? Remember tapes?

TV also had it’s shortcomings. Most people in my town didn’t have cable so television consisted of whatever the major networks felt like screening during the daytime hours. Programming generally involved games shows, soap operas and a lot of movies from the 1950’s and 1960’s that no one had ever heard of and generally skewed towards a much older and heftier demographic.

The outdoors weren’t a picnic either. Being in the Midwest outdoors during the summer were generally hot and muggy and akin to playing in a giant armpit infested with mosquitoes and chiggers. Plants could also be pretty rough. I estimate that I spent about two months every summer covered in some rash from poison ivy, burrs or stinging nettles but we were driven to it through boredom.

Whether it was indoors or outdoors however danger abounded back then. It truly was a different time. We were warned about kidnappers and taught how to hunker down under a desk in the event of nuclear warfare but remained remarkably unaware about other more insidious dangers presented with the items we played with on a daily basis.

Remember caps? Those exploding ones filled with gunpowder you could buy for guns that looked like real guns? Remember lawn jarts? Who in their right mind would promote a toy with a weighted metal tip that kids are supposed to throw at a target some 35 feet away (but not at each other kids let’s all follow the rules)?

Easy Bake Ovens had doors that tended to close on one’s hands while the lightbulb was cheerily cooking a batch of inedible muffins at 450 degrees. Chemistry sets were composed of elements that could eat through a concrete foundation, blow off one’s hands, or even poison an entire house with toxic gas when combined incorrectly or, on those rare occasions, correctly.

It was a simpler time, a duller, more stupid and wondrously dangerous time that was punctuated by weeks and months of absolute boredom. Our parents were, most likely, working for a paycheck or at home cooking, cleaning, planning the next Tupperware party, learning how to jazzercise, or how to use canned beef in some sort of God forsaken casserole. They were often too busy, in short, to cater to our every whim and need and most of us turned out kind of all right.

Nuclear device or firework from the 1980s?

Like so many other generations before us the children of the 80’s had to create our own fun. We gleefully tossed lawn jarts in the air and screamed when they rained down upon us and slammed through the earth or the occasional foot. We watched hours of color patterns and static on the television in the hope of seeing a breast or an ass cheek when cable was in its infancy. We remember UHF versus VFH, WWF before there was a WWC, BB guns and bottle rockets, and M-90s that could easily relieve a hand of its fingers.

Of course we could rarely get our hands on contraband like fireworks equal in strength to a quarter stick of dynamite and during those moments when we didn’t we were bored. We achieved a level of boredom, such a soul crushingly, stupefyingly, mind numbing torpor that Buddhist monks would envy us for the emptiness of our thoughts. It was during those moments that we engaged our imaginations and became aware of the possibilities surrounding us.

When we were children my sister and I used to spend hours walking through the woods that backed up to our subdivision. At times we would venture all the way through them to a thrift store on the other side or a bluff that housed a series of vines we’d swing on over a giant bramble of thorns. More often than not we’d follow a creek that wound its way through a shallow valley hoping to catch a glimpse of a doe or a water bug skitter over the unbroken surface of a pond.

I remember falling asleep in field of clover across the street from my house and doing the same in the boughs of an apple tree that swayed back and forth in the wind. I remember digging a giant hole in our front yard in an attempt to break through the crust and reach the mantle of the earth.

This kid has it all figured out.

More than anything I remember lying on the gold shag carpet of the living room in my house and being completely and utterly and gloriously bored for days and months at a stretch and I want my daughter to have that same experience.

I want Darcy to be so bored out of her mind that she digs a hole in the middle of my front yard because she wants to see what the center of the earth looks like. I want her to look forward to collecting lightning bugs because it’s going to be the most interesting part of the day.

I want her to draw pictures of unicorns and make puppet shows of dubious quality. I want her to fawn over the flowers and plants I’ve cultivated in in the yard before I inadvertently send them to their final resting place in the mulch pile.

I want her to ride her bike and grin proudly at the skinned knees it took her to learn the task. I want my daughter to engage her imagination as much as possible before other interests like her friends and phones take priority.

More than anything I want to watch Darcy explore her inner and outer worlds and guide her as best as I’m able. I want to cherish this time in part because I love my daughter but also because, when it’s over and my daughter is able to tend to herself, I’ll have to find a paying job.

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