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For Father's Day: Thoughts on Raising Kids That are Better Than You

There's a moment in the criminally overlooked '80s comedy Broadcast News where handsome but vapid and empty-headed news anchor William Hurt says to Albert Brooks' smart but untelegenic schlub of a reporter, "What do you do when your real life exceeds your dreams?" And the answer comes, "You keep it to yourself." 

I bring this up because I've been asking myself the same question a lot lately as Father's Day approached. And rather than keep it to myself. I'm going to work through some thoughts on the matter here. 

I mentioned a year ago at this time that I've had crippling daddy issues since I was 10 years old. Not the kind that have me trolling for Instagram likes from creepy old guys or dancing in a belly shirt on TikTok. But the sort that come from losing your dad to heart failure the summer before 5th grade and wanting to grow up and be on the other side of that equation. To have children of my own and have all the life moments that he might have with by brothers and sister, but didn't get to with his youngest, and presumably his favorite (me). 

As a matter of fact, I can honestly say that as far back as I can remember, all I've ever truly wanted was to marry someone of unlimited kindness (like he did), live in a decent house in the suburbs (ditto), stay close with my brothers and sisters (yup) and be the father to kids who make me proud and watch them grow up (not so much). Besides those things, I don't remember asking anything out of life. (Apart from being captain of a Starship and having a Thunderball-like 007 jet pack. And I'm still waiting. Thanks for nothing, science.)

And it's sort of fitting that Father's Day is here again because I'm been semi-fixated on this one thought lately. It's something I said to their mom just last week. I had messed up in a way that bothered my infinitely patient Irish Rose and our sons. And while admitting I was totally responsible, conceded that part of the problem is that the rest of them are just simply better people than I am. 

That's not just self-deprecation or fishing for compliments; it's a statement of fact. And by no means the worst family dynamic to have. If someone is going to occupy the bottom of our Good Person depth chart, I'd certainly prefer it be me. And I'm not claiming to be some kind of morally bankrupt degenerate. I'm not out committing heinous crimes. I'm not being fitted for a court ordered ankle bracelet. It's just that when the rest of the family unit consists of mature, happy, good-hearted people, either working or studying to work in noble professions, by default someone has to be the worst human being in the group. And that will always be whichever one earns a living doing R-rated comedy about trivial nonsense on an entertainment website and in nightclubs. In no way am I ashamed of the careers I've carved out for myself. I love what I do and no intention of doing anything else. Ever. But when the competition in your bracket is doing serious things that help others with their lives, you will be weighed in the balance and found lacking. 

I've mentioned before that my older son did four years in the United States Marines and is now in college studying Criminal Justice. And is weighing his options to either work for the federal government in some capacity or go back into the military. His younger brother is majoring in Psychology at a Catholic university, where he can both pursue the faith that is so important to him and train to  become a licensed counselor. I spent yesterday on a golf course with three of my best friends where we spent four hours crushing beers and listing the sequels that are better than the original and unironically debating whether Jean Claude Van Damme was better in Kickboxer or Bloodsport

My sons are like the brothers Boromir and Faramir in The Lord of the Rings books whom Tolkien describes as "unlike they were, and yet very much akin." And while I don't think I'm like their father Denethor, who loved one more than the other, went nuts, tried to burn one of them alive, caught fire himself and pitched himself off a tower while the city he ruled over was under attack, I'm simply not the men they are. 

And I'm not alone. In fact, I think it's a common trait among all the guys from Weymouth I grew up with and am still friends with. Almost to a person, their adult children are these impressive young adults. Who got good educations, are on solid career paths, and are unfailingly nice, interesting people who are kind to their dads goofy friends while we talk nonsense and laugh at the same stories we thought were hilarious when we first told them in middle school. And since we all knew each other's parents as well, we seem to be proof that being an actual adult skips a generation. 

It's hard to find words to adequately express how rewarding that is. At some point in your life you're required to believe that the generations that have come after you are all shiftless, lazy, no-account snowflakes who listen to awful music. I think that's part of the oath you swear in order to join the AARP. But that's just not the case. These friends' kids and mine are impressively doing these impressive things at an age when we used to fill the shower in a rented Winnebago with cases of Bud Light and road trip it every year to Atlantic City and the Patriots at Jets game. I shudder to think what these sons and daughters would think if they knew what went on during those debauched weekends. Especially given that, during the early days of the quarantine, one of my buddies' daughters was mortified by a photo I Tweeted out of four of us crushing those same beers in the parking lot of our elementary school. 


Which I guess sort of brings me full circle to where I began this. When you live a substantial portion of your life online and playing for laughs, you cross lines. It's inevitable. And I know for a fact the people who matter to me sometimes cringe at the things that come out of my keyboard and my mouth. It's a hazard of the job when that job is making fun of everything. And all you can do is make sure they understand how grateful you are their apples didn't fall straight down off your tree. That, in fact, they took flight and landed in orchards of their own. Ones that are beyond anything you could've dreamed of when they first appeared in the delivery room.

All any dad with even a tiny particle of fathering instincts in his soul hopes for is that his children grow up to have a better life than his and give him a reason to be proud. On God's great injury report, we're all listed as "day to day." I think I can speak for every father when I say if I get hit by lightning or eaten by a bear tomorrow, I'll check out of this world knowing that I brought good people into it. They are my contribution to the human race. My legacy. If I'm remembered for no other thing, remember me as someone who, for all his faults, somehow raised good men, loved them and their mother more than life itself. 

Also, remember me for the time their mom was visiting her girlfriend for a long weekend and after 48 hours we sent her this:

I've got everything I need for Father's Day. I hope you and every dad you know does as well. Thanks for reading.