The quintessential American family — the Cleavers from Leave It To Beaver.
Hugh Beaumont and Tony Dow as Ward and Wally Cleaver.
Photo is screen shot from YouTube video.
Kids don’t know everything. Surprise! They have questions. Sometimes, they keep them bottled up — that’s a story for another column.
But a lot of times, they ask questions and you need to be ready for them. As a father, my kids look at me most of the time like I should have all the answers.
When they look at me at all.
There are the big questions: What should I do when I grow up? Why aren’t you and Mom together? Why do some people get sick?
These are the heavy ones, the ones that will catch you off guard, make you uncomfortable and shape your children’s life views. They’ll ask them when they want to ask them, not when you’re prepared.
Good luck with that. I think I’m batting around .500 on those.
If you’re judging my success rate as a baseball player, that would make me a Hall of Famer. Then again, if my kid comes home from school with a 50 percent success rate, there’s going to be trouble.
But today, I’m not talking about the heavy questions, I’m talking about the everyday questions. And I mean, EVERY day.
What can I eat? What can I watch? Why do I have to? Those kind of questions.
As a parent, I hear these every day. Sometimes, there are not even questions — just statements that imply questions.
“I’m bored,” means that despite having a TV in three different rooms, two different video game consoles, a bookshelf full of unread, age-appropriate books, a skateboard and a bicycle, a library a mile away and two friends who live close by — oh, and don’t forget a brother and board games, toys, and things to throw to or at each other … I’m wondering: “What are you going to do for me?”
I am requesting that you drop what you’re doing and arrange some entertainment or activity for me.
“I’m hungry,” means that because you as a parent appear to be busy, I am no longer capable of preparing a snack for myself — something that I certainly would do if you weren’t here and I was truly hungry and not just bored (see above). And so, I’m asking: “What are you going to serve me?”
“I’m thirsty” … well, I think you get the idea.
When the questions are actually phrased, as Alex Trabek would say, in the form of a question, most of the times, the questions involve me handing over money, or giving permission, or both.
And most of the time, the only answer that is acceptable to them is “Yes” — an unconditional “Yes.”
Not “Yes, but …”
As in Yes, but you have to do something first.
Or Yes, but only until this time. Or Yes, but you have to help pay for this.
The only time “Yes, but” is an acceptable answer is when you say: “Yes, but don’t tell your brother,” or your mother, because now, we’re in a secret together. And whether it’s benign, a white lie or an out and out caper, it’s our secret.
No, what they want to hear is “Yes.”
Which is sometimes the easiest answer, but not always the right answer.
But MY question today is … what about MY questions?
Oh, I try and ask them questions. Why didn’t you clean your room? Why would you want to eat … that? Why did you stick (blank) in (blank)?
But those are parenting questions. I can ask other parents, or therapists, or books. Or experience, the best and sometimes most direct and painful teacher.
But what abut the questions I have that they can’t answer?
Like … Why does the coach of the U.S. World Cup team sound like the villain in every Die Hard movie?
Why do people in the fast lane on the freeway drive slowly?
Why do I dislike my kid’s music even more than I remember my parents disliking mine?
Why does that red-head from Wendy’s say the exact same thing every time, which is, now that’s different?”
Why does having a kid in your car who’s not old enough to drive qualify you for the car pool lane?
Why did I think “Questions” was a good idea for a column?
Why am I still asking them?
Mike Brennan has been a Pulitzer Prize-nominated newspaper reporter, a magazine writer, an investigative journalist, a nationally touring stand-up comedian, a joke writer for the Tonight Show with Jay Leno, a morning radio host, a professional auctioneer for numerous charities, an editor, and a film and TV script consultant. He is currently working on a romantic comedy screenplay, and a humorous book on being a father, called The Tooth Fairy Doesn’t Pay for Yellow Teeth. He has lived in the Valley for 19 years, and has two teenage sons. Contact the author.