By NICK CHILES
Like many children of the 1970’s, I had my visions of fatherhood formed not only by my own Dad but by the fatherly icons that marched across my television screen every week. Characters like James Evans on Good Times, Mike Brady on The Brady Bunch, Tom Bradford on Eight Is Enough, even that knucklehead George Jefferson on The Jeffersons. They were strong, (sometimes) decisive, and they were undoubtedly the Alpha Males of their households. As Alpha Male, part of the deal was that no one messed with their stuff—their favorite chair, their newspaper, their prized collection of fill-in-the-blank. Sometimes there would even be a show constructed around the hilarity that ensued when one of the kids messed up their stuff. When dinnertime came, in the words of Chris Rock, they always got the “big piece of chicken.”
I just knew that when I eventually became a dad, my household would surely be an exact replica of these TV standards (though I’m sure I hoped the house looked a lot more like the Bradfords’ on Eight is Enough and a lot less like the Evanses’ on Good Times).
Cut to December 2008 and the actual, real-life version of the Chiles household. We are somewhere in the early evening of Wednesday, December 3, in the kitchen, about four feet southwest of the kitchen table. I am making my way away from the refrigerator when I find myself staring at the snarling, irate visage of my lovely wife, (the talented creator of this website, known to me as MyBrownWifey) who is clutching a bag of Pepperidge Farm’s Snickerdoodle cookies, the delicious cinnamon-spiced favorites of my 9-year-old daughter.
“Who ate Mari’s cookies?!”
With the cookie crumbs still visible on my t-shirt, I fight off my first impulse in this situation, which is to shriek like a little girl and run from the room in terror. I even manage to fight off my second impulse, which is to blame my teenage son. (When confronted with the mystery of suddenly missing food, you can’t go wrong blaming the 16-year-old.) But then I get a flash of James Evans, standing proud and strong in that old tired-looking kitchen on Good Times. Surely James wouldn’t run from the kitchen, shrieking like a little girl (or like his son, Michael).
I square my shoulders and look MyBrownWifey in the eye. I summon the ghost of George Washington and, in my deepest baritone, I say, “I ate the cookie.” I see her eyes narrowing, so I feel compelled to add, with more mumble than baritone, “But I only had one.”
As I make my way up to my bedroom a little later on, trying to understand why the scene in the kitchen has left me a bit queasy, as if my testicles have shrunk a few inches, I see that my side of the large king-sized bed in our spacious master bedroom is being occupied by the lean, wiry little body of my 6-year-old daughter. In the sitcoms of the 70’s, one of the TV children in such a situation would have scurried from the bed in a flash, horrified to be caught so conspicuously enjoying the comfort of Daddy’s favorite spot. In the real-life Chiles household of 2008, my darling little Lila casts a skeptical eye up at me, making not even a minimal effort to get the hell up from my spot. Her facial expression says it all: “What?”
When I tell her, with that same baritone, that the “What” is that she needs to move her narrow behind from my spot, she rolls her eyes and proceeds to scoot over maybe six inches, as if that should be enough to satisfy me. MyBrownWifey manages to pull her gaze away from her laptop (Hey, the care and feeding of this blog is more than a full-time job!) long enough to suggest sweetly to her youngest that perhaps she might want to move over a bit more so Daddy can lie down.
Right here is where I give you the point of this whole exercise. With each passing day, it has become much clearer to me that I ain’t James Evans. Not even Tom Bradford. I don’t know when was the precise date that it occurred, but the household has changed quite a bit for the modern dad. One day we woke up and discovered that not only were our households no longer our dominions, but we were lucky if we could get hired as manservants or court jesters up in these joints. The rulers of my world are the tiny people who march into our bedroom in the mornings and tell us they are ready for breakfast. Mom is the queen who bestows them with greatness, the warrior who defends them to her last breath and the handmaid who takes care of their every need. I am that dude who busts into the room just when the show is getting good to tell them they have to go to bed.
What am I going to do about this? What can I do about this?
I know they all love me and adore me and all that, and this is what counts, I guess.
As long as I stay away from their cookies.
About Our MBB Contributor:
Nick Chiles, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, is the author of six books, and the editor-in-chief of the travel magazine, Odyssey Couleur. He loves Snickerdoodles, and occasionally eats them while watching football—when he can commandeer the TV from his brown babies.