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Giants, Grunge, and Guidance

"Did you think he'd come out with a ball and glove and ask you to play catch?" joked Marc's wife when he admitted his feelings to her. She could tell he was feeling down. At first, she chalked it up to being tired because they were both so tired. When she saw he was serious she placed her hand on his shoulder and comforted him, "You're already a great dad, you just need to give it some time, you know, more than a couple of weeks, soon he'll be old enough to do all the things you want to do with him. It'll be here faster than you realize."

A lot of kids grow up wanting to be like their fathers. Marc wasn't any different. And, to be clear, he didn't want to be an accountant. He wanted to be the same type of father. His dad was the Cub Scout leader, the one that coached soccer while never actually ever playing soccer before. The one that went to all the practices, games, tournaments, campouts, plays, recitals, concerts, art shows, if Marc was out there doing an interruptive dance, his father was there cheering him on.

That's why it's not surprising to learn that Marc was one of those over-excited soon to be dads. The kind that would make other soon to be dads look bad. The type that, even his pregnant wife, once said, "pump the brakes, Marc" when Marc had some thoughts on her birth plan. He read all the books, went to all the classes and even bought a baby doll to master the art of swaddling, which he did master. Marc also thought of himself as his wife's unofficial doula during her delivery. Marc's enthusiasm was sweet. Marc is pumped to be a dad.

That's why Marc was so surprised after his son was born, that he felt a little disappointed in fatherhood. Not disappointed in his son or being a father. Marc was still through the moon about that. It was just that in the first couple of weeks being a dad he hasn't felt, fatherly.

Marc smiled at his wife's assurances and nodded in agreement. He then thought to himself, "Man, I wish, babies did come out ready to play catch." In all the books and classes it never occurred to Marc that all the things he's waited years to do with his kid he would have to wait even more years before his son would be old enough to do them. His son didn't need to learn to throw a football, or how to drive stick, and while Marc could start to give him advice, he wasn't going to remember it. At this stage of fatherhood, Marc felt useless.

He wasn't of course, useless. He was a great help to his wife. He did late night feedings so she could rest, he happily put his master swaddling skills to work and changed diapers like a machine. But, that was about it. Because besides, eating, sleeping, and pooping, Marc's son didn't do much else. Because he was a newborn, and that's all they do.

Marc shook his head and chastised himself. What was he doing? Of course, the baby can't play catch. He doesn't even know what baseball is yet. And then he had a brilliant idea. If he weren't able to play catch, then the next best thing would be to surround his son with things Marc would want him to be into when he got older. You know, all the things Marc loves.

First, it was sports. And not just enjoying sports in general. Marc didn't want his son to love football. He wanted him to love football and the New York Giants because Marc loves the Giants. And if there is one thing that is true about parents and children is that, if you don't pass down your team loyalty to your kids then you mind as well give up on parenting. The idea that his son could grow up to be Dallas Cowboy fans made a cold shiver run up Marc's spine. So Marc did what any reasonable father would do. He waited until his wife was asleep and then plastered the nursery with New Your Giant memorabilia. Posters, bedding, stuffed animals, a giant wall decal of Odell Beckham Jr., and a few Eli Manning bobbleheads out of Marc's collection.

Marc's wife was okay with the redecoration, eventually. At first, she was upset and annoyed that Marc would replace her "elephant theme" with a bunch of football players. She had spent months picking out all the decorations only to have them shoved into the closet. She knew her husband was going through something and just needed to work it out, but she made him promise her that he'd run anymore decorating changes by her.

Feeling like the room had a sufficient amount of blue Marc agreed and began plotting how to start phase two. The second phase of his plan that he was now calling "Operation: Make my kid love everything I love" was going to be a little trickier. Decorating the room was one thing. Wait until his wife took a nap then cram so much New York Giants stuff into the room that it would overwhelm her and she'd want to go back to bed. With phase two he wasn't going to be able to do that.

Marc doesn't like the term, "Brainwashing." It's an ugly term. All he wants is for his son to love the same music and if that means playing 90's grunge instead of the classical music that his wife has been playing since he was in utero then so be it.

Marc's wife woke up the next morning because of the craziest dream. She dreamt she was a teenager again. She was at Tower Records, wandering the aisles. Marc was there even though they didn't meet until college. He was wearing flannel and had long hair, which was odd because Marc was balding when they met and started shaving his head soon after. Except for old photos she has hardly seen him with hair, especially with long wavy hair that could use a wash. In the dream, there were rows and rows of CDs, and Marc was holding court in one aisle. He was talking to a group of young children who were sitting on the floor in a circle around him. He was lecturing, like a professor, about something called Mudhoney. Her eyes blinked open, and she was awake. She laughed at herself for a moment but then heard the faintest sound of music coming from down the hall, and it wasn't Mozart.

The sound of the music grew louder as she walked down the hall but it never got loud enough for her to identify it. She pushed open the half-closed door to see Marc in the middle of the nursery. He was talking to their son who was sitting on the floor, in one of those vibrating chairs. He was sound asleep, but Marc was whispering to him as if he had his complete attention.

"Alexa, pause," said Marc's wife. "What are you doing? And why do I suddenly feel anxious and cynical at the same time?" she joked. Marc gave her a playful eye roll and explained that he was mixing up their son's listening options and introducing him to some of his favorites.

"Sweetie, I said I wanted him to listen to classical music, not classic rock?" smiled Marc's wife at her not so subtle dig.

"Grunge," said Marc flatly.

"Call it what you want, but it was on the classic rock station the other day so --"

"Regardless," said Marc cutting her off with a smile, "I'm mixing in some Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and Alice In Chains with the Beethoven and Bach. It's the best of both worlds."

Marc's wife gave him a nod of "okay" as she turned to walk out the room, "If you're going to introduce him to the entire 90's music scene, try to get through Gangsta Rap before my mother visits."

Marc gave his leaving wife a "hardy har har" face then turned back to his son. "Okay, where was I? Oh yeah, Screaming Trees, Alexa. Continue."

A few days later after the intensive introductions to his favorite sports and music, Marc was feeling a lot better about his role as a father. He felt like he was providing his son with valuable information. Deep down Marc knew that his son was not going to remember any of this. Not really, but he thought of it as providing him with a subconscious first coat.

He was priming his son's brain. Getting it ready for the day when his tastes start to develop. And who knows, perhaps, subconsciously, some of this stuff will stick. If flannel could come back in style why couldn't grunge? With this round of music taken care of, Marc started on the next item of his "Dad to do list," Fatherly advice.

Fatherly advice, being a mentor, was something that meant a lot to Marc. He watched a lot of "Brady Bunch" reruns as a kid and always loved when the dad would wrap up the show with a lesson. His father was pretty good at giving advice when asked, but Marc did a lousy job of asking for help. He always wanted to show the world he knew what he was doing. It wasn't until he was much older than he realized that no one knows what they're doing.

What kind of person will his son grow up to be? That's what mattered most to Marc. The sports, music, etc. that stuff was trivial. At the end of the day, what did it matter if his son didn't appreciate the rawness of 90's Seattle music scene? Who cares if he didn't root for the Giants, or even cared about football? That doesn't matter. Unless he grew up to be a Cowboys fan, that's just bad parenting.

But shaping this little boy into a kind, respectful, honorable, hardworking member of society. That's what he knew he needed to get right. The next night with his son having a full belly and clean diaper Marc laid him in his crib and pulled out some index cards he had written. Each one had a piece of fatherly advice written on them. A test run, Marc thought as he cleared his throat and read the top one.

"No one likes a dead fish handshake," said Marc, his voice booming and sounding important. He read it as if standing on a pulpit and waited for a moment as if have expecting to hear an "AMEN!". He glanced down at his son, who was either paying close attention to Marc of staring at the ceiling fan above Marc's head.

He felt like he needed to explain, "No one like a weak handshake son, there's no need to give it a death grip, look the person in the eye and give them a nice firm handshake."

Marc then pretended to give a handshake to an invisible person he even made sure to provide proper eye contact, which meant he just stared forward at the Eli Manning bobblehead on the dresser across the room. Still shaking the invisible man's had he glanced again at his son who was now defiantly staring at the ceiling fan.

It was at that moment Marc's wife entered the nursery. Seeing him pumping his hand up and down in the air she asked him, "What are you doing?"

"Showing how to give a proper handshake," Marc said as he stopped shaking hands with no one and awkwardly stood in the room. His wife continued to stare at him as if, without saying it, needed more of an explanation. Marc obliged.

"I'm practicing giving fatherly advice," said Marc matter of factly. "This was one of them, no dead fish handshakes," he repeated. 

Marc's wife giggled then asked to see the cards. "And precisely what other pearls of wisdom are you giving our boy. I want to make sure it's good."

Marc's wife flipped the next card and read it.

"'Tremors' is the most underrated movie ever made." Marc's wife looked up at Marc with a doubting look on her face.

"It's like Jaws, but in the desert, with Kevin Bacon and the dad from Family 'Ties'" started Marc before his wife cut him off by reading the next one.

"The Friend Zone: How to Identify and Escape," she read and looked up with a sly smile.

"I would have saved a lot of time in high school if someone told me about that, " said Marc sheepishly.

She flipped to the next one, "This is just a list of activities."

"Oh," said Marc, "That's just a bunch of things I plan on teaching him."

She began to read.

"'Change a tire,' that's practical. “

"'Start a fire,' that's terrifying."

"'Knife sharpening,' are we arming him in case of bear attacks?" she said sarcastically. Marc motioned to a different card which she read, "Always carry a pocket knife, ah, absolutely not."

"Gambling?!" she exclaimed.

"It's important to know, it could be an expensive lesson if no one teaches him," explained Marc. "But, that's for when he's older, like 12. Same goes for knowing 'how to order a drink' and 'tipping etiquette.'

Marc's wife stared at him like she didn't understand the words he was saying.

"At a bar, tipping at a bar, not strip clubs. (snort) that would be weird," laughed Marc, "also goes against..." Marc motioned for her to flip through the cards again.

"Don't be a 'strip club' guy," she read. She shook her head a little then continued to flip through.

"Aww, you have 'Know how to washing and folding laundry' and 'ironing' on here," she said looking proudly at her husband. "Very modern of you."

"I also have, 'Learn to cook,' Learn to dance,' and 'Don't be a creep,'" boasted Marc. Marc's wife placed the cards over her face to stifle her laughter. She put the index cards onto a folded New York Giants fleece blanket that was sitting on an empty rocking chair and walked across the nursery. As she stood on the Giants floor mat in front of the crib, she bent down to pick up their son; she gave the Odell Beckham Jr. wall decal on the wall of the cradle a slight head nod on the way back up.

"I think it is super sweet you're doing all this, but as I said,  you are already a wonderful father." she handed their son to Marc. "All of this..." she motioned around her " just nerves. The only thing you need to do is what you're doing right now."

"What if he grows up and hates me," said Marc.

His wife, surprised,  sat up straight and placed a hand on his knee and looked deeply into her husband's eyes.

"Of course he's going to hate you, he's going to be a teenager at some point. It means you're doing a good job. You're his father, not his buddy. He'll always love you, and we'll always love him no matter what."

Their son had fallen asleep and was gently snoring. Marc let out a sigh and laughed at himself. His wife got up to leave the room so the two men in her life could have some bonding time. As she neared the door, she paused and her smile faded.

"Unless he becomes a Cowboy fan," she said and walked out of the room.

Ray Tolbert