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Everything I Know About Parenting I Learned From ‘Dr. Who’

The fourth Doctor, played by Tom Baker.

Apparently, a new season of the BBC’s classic sci-fi series, “Dr. Who,” is about to begin here in the former colonies, which has prompted some people to reflect on how the 50-year-old show, about a time-traveling do-gooder with a funny accent and slightly funnier outfits, is an excellent source of parenting wisdom. And they’re right! So right, in fact, that I’ve compiled my own list of dadding lessons learned from watching the TARDIS whine in and out of existence:

1. You can disappear for years at a stretch, and yet your kids will still adore you. No, I’m not referring to the Doctor’s penchant for bouncing into and out of his companions’ lives at odd moments. Actually, I’m talking about the way the series barely made it to the age of 50: Beginning in the mid-80s, its existence was threatened, and it went entirely off the air for years at a time, returning occasionally for a season or three with a new Doctor before once again failing to find a broad audience and going dark. And yet Dr. Who fans STILL clamored for it, their ardor only growing with the show’s prolonged absence. And when it returned: joy beyond all reasonable measure! So that’s the approach I take to my kids. I leave when I feel like it, knowing that when—if—I return, they’ll be as desperate as ever for my love and attention.

2. Kids will believe anything. If there’s one thing Dr. Who is known for, it’s execrable dialogue and even worse special effects. Easy example: For the show’s entire run, the most evil bad guys of all were the Daleks, who trundled around on roller balls, unable to climb stairs, and were usually limited to the singularly idiotic spoken line: “Ex-ter-min-ate!” And yet I fucking loved that show, and even now, despite my overt knowledge of its shoddiness, tune in to catch new episodes. And so, once again, I’m taking this approach to child-rearing: I tell my kids whatever flits through my brain, no matter how unbelievable, knowing that the little creatures are so credulous they’ll eat it all up. Remember, I’ve just returned from months or years away, and they want my attention, so their defenses are down—I might well have been piloting my spaceship through the galaxy in the company of unicorn princesses.

3. A silly outfit makes everything okay. Of course, for these tactics to work, you have to emulate the Doctor down to his wardrobe, which can be anything from Edwardian to cricket-ready to 21st-century hipster formal. This gives the Doctor a playful, almost harmless aspect, when in fact his arrival usually signals the imminent near-destruction of the planet Earth, and the upending of his companions’ lives. But hey, he’s got a long, silly scarf! And a robot dog! And expertly tousled hair! How much chaos can he—or I—really wreak? (Answer: As much as you’ll let me!)

So there you have it: a primer on parenting based on the adventures of a guy who’s lived 900-some years without ever settling down, acquiring health insurance (what’s the deductible on regeneration?), and time-traveling all the way back to 4:35 a.m. in order to be first on line to register a kid for Universal Pre-K. Trust me, this stuff totally works—at least until the network executives (a.k.a. your wife) cancel the season and the kids all yell, “Exterminate!” After that, you might as well go live at Comic-Con.

Crib, Cradle, Car

This post was sponsored by Fiat and the new Fiat 500L: Significantly larger than the iconic Fiat 500, and plenty big enough for a family of five. For more information on sponsored posts, read the bottom of our About Page.

Crib, cradle, car: these are, apparently, the three main sleep-inducers for the modern family. This we know because of a recent study that showed that new UK parents drive an average of 1,300 miles a year just trying to get their children to sleep. And, as the Daily Mail pointed out, the fathers as a separate category are even rangier than that, driving an astonishing 1,827 miles in the first year of their child’s life. That’s the equivalent of three Le Mans endurance races, except there’s not always second driver to take over when you get fatigued.

At least there isn’t for the self-described “baby chauffer”  in Fiat’s dad-centered video followup to Fiat’s The Motherhood video. This installment, called The Fatherhood (Fiat 500L 12″ Remix), begins with an identifiable scene: mom packs the two mewling infants in the back car seats and then shuts the door so the father can drive off in the hopes the children will finally settle down. The car door shutting serves as the downbeat for a retro musical take on the road rules of being a first-time dad, as some satirical New Wave synth pop kicks off (think The Human League and their ilk). Whether or not that’s your jam, readers of this blog will be glad to see the lyrics laced with the kind of self-pity and regret we often indulge in here:

It’s fine because I love you / And I will never trade your mother
But in the future I’ll be abstinent / Or double up the rubber

There must be an element of sleep-deprived hallucination involved here—soon he’s seeing singing wood nymph and dancing unicorn, which is usually a firm sign of mental distortion—which could also explain the teleportation directly back to the sounds of early-80′s Sheffield. The good news here—for the driver, for Fiat, and for the babies—is that despite his solipsism, sleeplessness and hallucinations, the father manages to drive safely enough to arrive unscathed back in front of his home.

Except, just then, the infants wake up. And thus, perhaps, was a sequel to The Fatherhood (Fiat 500L 12″ Remix) born.

Until then, here’s the video, on YouTube:

Digital Sabbath

This sabbath has a sign

As the least Jewish (yet still sorta Jewy!) member of DadWagon, Sabbath has never been my strength. So when I set out to write about the fourth annual National Day of Unplugging on March 1, which is a sort of Sabbath for the digital era, I realized that by writing about it March 1, I would actually be totally violating the premise (unless I was going to write it down with pencil and paper and just post it around the neighborhood).

And so, I present to you, on March 2 in the evening, a post about March 1.

There is a lot of scripture about the Sabbath and what it is and why God  commanded it and such. But one of the best has to be this:

Exodus 23:12 Six days you shall do your work, and on the seventh day thou shall rest: that thine ox and thine ass may rest, and the son of your handmaid, and the stranger, may be refreshed.

I like it, of course for the unintentional way that it talks to me in the vernacular—thine ass may rest!—and because it presumes I have a handmaid, which is nice and flattering. But this, like other scripture on Sabbath, says it should be a day of rest. The problem for a digital sabbath is that these days we tend to be doing the exact same thing whether at rest or at work. That is, we are still at our computers whether it’s the weekend or the week, whether we are looking to work through a to-do list or looking for cat porn for fun (or whatever your search habits are). About when the Book of Exodus would have been written, it was pretty clear if someone was in the fields working or at home Sabbathing. Now you would have to be close enough to see the screen—angry birds or angry email to investors?—to figure out whether this was work or rest.

That’s why I like the solution from the National Day of Unplugging people. Just unplug it all. Refresh your handmaid’s son (if you’re into that kink). Rest thine ox. And, of course, rest thine ass. Offline.

Why Men Brag About Their Salaries, Part 3

I’ve known for a long time that I’m not—how shall I put this?—the most traditionally manly of men. I know, I know: This may come as a surprise to anyone who’s gazed upon my hulking 5-foot-8, 150-pound frame, heard the resonant boom of my Dylan-esque voice, or run their lustful fingers across my nubby scalp, but it’s true. I’m at heart a little guy, full of frailties, failings, and neuroses, who’s uncomfortable with the idea of any kind of macho behavior, like, say, bragging about my salary.

Because what would I brag about? I’ve never made enough money to boast about; in fact, I’ve always been either underpaid (for glamorous work) or paid just adequately enough (for tedious work). Last year, in fact, I made so little money as a freelance writer (after the usual deductions) that I wasn’t even required to pay New York City’s Metropolitan Commuter Transportation Mobility tax, which is maybe $100 every year, tops. If I were single, I would be homeless, or more likely living in a far cheaper place than New York. Like Lagos.

See how much easier this is for me, to put myself down rather than build myself up? It’s the legacy of Woody Allen, I think, that many of us born in the 1970s and reared in the Freaks and Geeks 1980s are only too happy to embrace (we don’t really have any choice): We are nebbishes, nerds, and nudniks, with bad hair, bad skin, and bad, bad dance moves. And yet instead of letting our unmanliness dominate us, we made peace with it and moved on, mocking ourselves more mercilessly than any jock, prep, or cheerleader ever did. In fact, I just wrote a whole book about my failures as a traveler—how, after decades of jetting around the world, I still get sick, spend nights alone, and make stupid, humiliating mistakes. (It’s coming out in May, by the way.)

Relentless self-deprecation has become my basic mode of being, and that’s antithetical to so much of American office and public life: the endless talk about sports, cars, and money. Whenever I overhear coworkers say things like, “Did you see the Nets beat OKC last night?” (which happened as I was writing this piece), I feel the gap between myself and that traditional form of masculinity yawn ever wider and deeper. At times, when I observe how passionate guys get arguing about the superiority of, say, BMW over Mercedes, or discussing serious money-making deals, I wish I could be the same, just to know how that feels, to care so much. But that’s also how I feel about jumping from a moving train or eating glass: curious, but not that curious.

Instead, I’ll content myself with my own little beta-male world of onedownsmanship, and leave the boasting to the boors. Which is, I have to admit, its own form of bragging. By abasing myself so thoroughly, I’m really setting myself on a different, purer plane of existence, where we’re all so gawky and hopeless that we simply needn’t bother competing with the self-proclaimed Masters of the Universe. But you know what? That’s one bit of hubris I can live with.


Previously


Why Men Brag About Their Salaries, Part 2

Nathan on how bragging is a developmental milestone, and so girls, as with every other milestone, get there quicker. Crosspost from The Atlantic


Why Men Brag About Their Salaries, Part 1

Theodore on how he doesn’t shop, and he doesn’t crow. From our series with the Atlantic


New Year’s, Almost

The challenges of New Years for kids who don’t even know what a year is.


DADWAGON + THE ATLANTIC, VOLUME 3: WHEN DID WE BECOME GROWNUPS?

Originally posted at The Atlantic I just got back a couple days ago from a reporting trip to the Western Cape of South Africa, which included some time with farmworkers mourning the death of Michael Daniels, a young father shot dead by police during a wage protest. There was a visitation of the body, a [...]



  

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