When I say I’m a proud papa, I don’t mean to say I’m proud of my two children, Kerala and Talia. Of course, I am, and excessively so. I sometimes wonder if I should have been the kind of father who scolds and criticizes and then once in a blue moon, gives praise and kind words that mean so much because they’ve been withheld for so long. My praise of my children is like a daily toothbrush, mere routine for them and probably not valued more than a squeeze of toothpaste.
Be that as it may, what I mean by today’s title is that I’m proud of some of the things I’ve done as a father. I can’t go so far as to claim as I’m a great Dad because I have living children to tell the true stories and expose me as a fraud. But along with the thousand mistakes and hundred things I could have done better, both my wife Karen and I hit on some winning moments in the childraising game.
Besides the rainproof roof and the healthy food and meals eaten together and the publicly presentable clothes and the nightly bedtime stories and one wonderful school after another, there were some fun, quirky routines and practices that other parents might find intriguing. Amongst them:
• The TV in the closet to be rolled out each Thursday night for two or three shows we all watched together. (Back then, things like The Cosby Show, Family Ties, Cheers, etc.) Then rolled out again a few times a month for an occasional video.
• The journals we kept from the day of their birth through high school, marking their developmental breakthroughs, funny moments and our unending praise of them in print.With photos glued in. (As a new Mom, Kerala recently re-read hers and found it enlightening and fun.)
• Neighborhood Easter egg hunts, summer barbecues, Halloween pumpkin carving and Christmas caroling.
• Talia Day and Kerala Day, when they could chose whatever they wanted to do and wherever they wanted to go (within reason) and I was at their bidding. Related to this was going on one out-of-town workshop trip with me each year.
• Travels to “exotic” places. Talia was toilet-trained in Bali, Kerala learned to snorkel in Fiji, we all got to boast about the record number of mosquitoes in two minutes in Costa Rica, they both had to fend off marriage proposals in Ghana, and so on.
But the thing that Karen and I did particularly well was The Birthday Party. Each one was an invitation for us to outdo the previous and go to the limits of our imagination. They started simply with piñatas and fishing for party favors in the cardboard ocean, but increased in complexity as the kids aged. Some were standard fun local things, like miniature golf, sailing in the Bay and the Tactile Dome in the Exploratium and others were truly homegrown. Kerala shared her 10th birthday with a classmate and we started the party at our house with all the kids dressed in fake tuxes and gowns sipping fake martinis and then they all traveled by limousine (not too expensive if you share with the other family) to the other girl’s house. Talia’s 13th birthday was The Vertigo Theme, where we drove around San Francisco with the six kids invited videotaping our own version of the Hitchcock classic, complete with wigs, hats and a few props. We then came back and watched it (still have the video) and then watched the real film. There were neighborhood scavenger hunts and then more elaborate ones in North Beach, Chinatown and Nob Hill. Drinks at the top of the Fairmont and in the Tonga Room. Driving the teenager party girls to Mt. Tam while they hiked in to West Point Inn and spent the night there sans parents. And so it went.
Today is Talia’s 28th birthday. She’s on some beach in Uruguay out of e-mail range. Perhaps she’s organized a scavenger hunt or is telling the Vertigo story. Or just chilling dreaming of her last week of teaching in Argentina and then turning her compass homeward after being away for over three years. Whatever she’s doing, wherever she is, I hope she’s having a grand Talia day and that she knows that her Papa is proud of her.
And wishes he could be there to organize the party!