The Frederick News-Post, Md., Joshua R. Smith column

·6 min read

Nov. 27—While my son was browsing the birthday cards with his mother, looking for the perfect overpriced piece of paper to celebrate my 43rd last month, he folded one up and put it back, unsatisfied by the especially complimentary message and the fatherly traits it touted.

"Dad's not wise," my sixth grade son apparently said before settling on a five-panel card featuring several fish puns, including "Without you, life would be crappie."

By and large, this kid doesn't know what he doesn't know.

And if that's not wisdom, I don't know what is.

As a parent, it's startling how fast you go from being that heroic figure in your kids' naive eyes to a mush-brained chore assigner whose sole purpose, in their broadening gaze, is to stanch happiness.

So, since we've already reached this father-son mile marker, I revel in the rare times that I can enlighten him.

Well, not in the sense of literal education. I usually leave that for L.J.'s mother, who's a certified teaching professional and who's much less likely to hinder his grades.

But in terms of the more enriching stuff — the stuff that doesn't really matter but that we fortunate Americans spend so much time obsessing over — I take it upon myself to pass on some wisdom.

There is much I hope to expose him to before the polar ice caps fully melt and/or our country goes broke paying China to bring over all of the bottlenecked items we ordered online that are piled up on idle cargo ships. Maybe one day, he'll come to appreciate how I've employed my experience to make his life "kick bass" — like the birthday card said.

For instance, since my son is so quick to dive into the spirit by watching Christmas movies the day after Halloween, it was high time to welcome him to a heated, timeless debate that, like all things today, has divided the nation. I turned off this year's undoubtedly awful "Home Alone" reboot and turned on a bona fide holiday classic: "Die Hard."

And after those two explosive hours, I'm not sure which he now finds more entertaining — a snarky, resourceful little 8-year-old who foils a pair of witless "Wet Bandits" or a smarmy, resourceful little barefoot cop who derails a terrorist plot.

Regardless, upon its conclusion, my boy confirmed that "Die Hard" is definitely a Christmas movie (although he might've said that just so I will let him watch it with me every November henceforth).

And then he was like: "'Die Hard' is better than ALL of the Star Wars movies!"

And I was like: Yippee-ki-yay, Mr. Falcon!

I rested well that night, knowing the fatherly service I'd fulfilled, letting my mind drift to the days when, as a wide-eyed kid myself, I gleefully watched with my dad on the couch as Steven Seagal snapped dudes' arms like candy canes.

You just can't put a price on this kind of bonding.

I do also enjoy giving my son mini history lessons unrelated to impactful R-rated 1980s action flicks. I'm no buff, but I've always sought to learn about figures and events that occurred before I was born. I might've passed along that passion to L.J. because one of his favorite classes is social studies.

Alas, he probably won't be using that passion to enhance his knowledge of sports, like I do. L.J. cares nothing for those exhausting endeavors. But I still have a responsibility to give him a baseline understanding, thereby avoiding a side-eye from the all-mighty jock clique.

We recently had to go over soccer questions for a physical education quiz. As his mother read them aloud to us, I had a couple of questions of my own: 1. Who in the hell gives quizzes in gym class? 2. How is it that I married someone who thinks FIFA is pronounced fife-ah?

Anyway, I'm doing my best to get the lad to, at least, successfully identify Tom Brady and LeBron James amid a lineup of Pokemon characters.

I've accepted his disinterest in my favorite subject, even though I could wow him with the amount of useless information stored in my primarily one-track brain. Instead, I brandish that for my friends' kids because some of them are sports fans. When we get together, I love it when they ask questions.

Such as one I had to answer this fall for a 16-year-old: Who is Joe Paterno?

Those are times when I realize just how consumed by the present kids are. But you could easily accuse me of being too caught up in the past. Like, in the car one weekend, I couldn't resist giving my trapped son an overview of the 1990s East Coast-West Coast hip-hop rivalry after a bleep-heavy Notorious B.I.G. song came on the radio.

Who else is going to teach this to L.J.? And when my recap concluded, I almost said, "If ya don't know, now ya know."

My tendency to reach back in time has allowed me to be of some assistance to L.J. as he navigates the potholes of preteendom, which apparently is a word because spell-check didn't flag it. The other day, he marveled about a kid in his class who is unbeatable at arm-wrestling. This was a cue to explain how everyone matures physically at their own rate. As proof, I launched into a "back when" story about how I couldn't outsprint some of my bigger classmates in middle school but became the fastest kid in the county by the time I was a high school senior.

He was skeptical of the statement, seeing as how he's so used to only seeing me hunched in front of a computer. So I broke out the scrapbook. His stunned reaction to evidence that I'd actually accomplished something once upon a time was amusing.

While L.J. has no idea how many times I've been around the proverbial block, while he is starting to use a certain tone that's becoming more frequent — one hinting that his parents are both dummies who somehow, miraculously, worked their way through school, started careers, made a life for themselves that awards him countless creature comforts via our shrewd management of money, and gained a measure of respect from at least some peers — he'll figure it out eventually.

Until then, I'll just keep doling out chores, prepping him covertly for real life with the wisdom I've accrued and, above all, trying to ensure his life isn't crappie.

Joshua R. Smith is the News-Post sports editor. His column, Real Dads Wear Yoga Pants, appears once a month.

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