My dad just loved to tease. When we were little, he liked to play a question and answer game with us 3 boys. An example:
Dad – Robbie, what is 12 times 12? Me – 144. Dad – right!
Dad – Steve, (Steve was only 5), what was Einstein’s theory of relativity…was it E=mc2? Steve – yes. Dad – very good, Steve!
Dad – ok Mike, your turn, (Mike was 4),…what famous President was the Washington Monument named after? (pause)….. Mike – you’re giving Steve all the easy ones! Mike getting angry and upset…so Dad – ok, ok…here’s an easy one Mike. What color is Washington’s white horse? Mike – you said you would give me an easy one!! At which point Mike’s face would get red with anger and he would storm out of the room and be upset for perhaps 10 minutes.
When I was 2, I had a hernia surgery. It was a running joke for my dad that I had needed that surgery because I had sat on a tricycle without a seat. That’s a pretty funny joke, I have to admit. I believed it for the longest time and can’t remember how old I was when I finally got the truth. You see, if you tell your child the same thing over and over and never correct it, they’ll continue to hold it as fact until the record gets set straight – remember this point as it becomes a key point in this story later on.
Once my dad played a big gag on me. At first I was a bit traumatized by it, but many years later I was able to look back, smile and say to myself – not bad Dad, not bad. It was Christmas morning, 1964. I was in second grade. Christmas time for us kids was ‘the’ most important time of the year. It was the time of year that reinforced for us that magic really did exist! You went to bed and when you woke up, Santa Claus had magically somehow gotten into our houses, read our minds and transported a mess of toys into our houses and placed them all around a tree that we had cut down and brought into the house. My parents would on occasion complain about the bills, (especially at Christmas time), so this especially reinforced for me that they couldn’t possibly afford to buy our toys, so it must be magic!
On this Christmas morning all 3 of us boys woke up and went out of our bedroom to check out what Santa had left. They were all marked as to who each toy was for. Toys for Mike – check. Toys for Steve – check. What do we see for Rob? A desk! No toys I had wanted, but a crappy white kid’s desk. And that was all I got…..at least that’s what I believed. So poor kids in China are starving, right? We should all be grateful for what we have, right? My dad of course was egging the situation on. Dad – wow Robbie, a desk! Isn’t that nice! I did try to maintain my composure… for about 2 minutes. I left the room and headed for my bed where I threw my head into he pillow and began to cry. I could not believe Santa had delivered cool toys to my brothers and given me nothing but a crappy desk. I was heartbroken.
I am sure my dad knew what was going on behind my bedroom door and knowing dad, I’m sure he was giggling like crazy. My mom I’m sure was trying to tell dad that I had had enough. My dad comes into the bedroom and I try to stop crying. He’s chuckling a bit as he asks me – what’s wrong, don’t like your gift? I reply that Steve and Mike got so much more than me. He’s still chuckling a bit and then says to me – hmm, did you look in the desk? Did you open the doors and drawers? No. I reluctantly got up and walked back out to he desk. Sure enough, there were toys in the drawers – I could have killed Santa! I was smart I guess, but sure not smart enough to figure out yet that there was no Santa Claus and that my dad was guilty of pulling a really good fast one on me.
And that was my dad. No one in our house was safe from teasing. Dad’s sense of humor was perhaps his best characteristic. He was funny to be around (if he wasn’t losing his temper that is). The very next Christmas I guess Dad thought I was too old to believe in Santa Claus. Today I still don’t know why third grade was the magic age I was supposed to stop believing, especially since earlier that year I had escaped death by school bus, but as long as it was important to my dad, well that’s all that mattered.
Does everyone remember the day you stopped believing in Santa, the day someone in authority told you the truth? I remember mine extremely well. It was 1966, perhaps a couple of weeks before the big day. We were in the front room of our house on Goodman and my dad was on his way out the door. I guess maybe he had asked me something about Christmas because he asked me, “you don’t still believe in Santa, do you?” I replied, “yes, because how could you afford to buy all the toys?” (Apparently I must have paid attention to the grown up talk.) I still remember him standing here, right hand on the doorknob, light brown jacket, smiling and telling me that no, there is no such thing as Santa Claus, it’s me and your mom. I knew he was telling me the truth. It was a sad day and I remember sensing that I’d remember this day for a long time.
When Kim and I started having children of our own, I remember thinking that I wanted my boys to have a good sense of humor. I wanted them to be able to laugh and to be able to find the humor in almost every situation. I believed then, (and still believe), that if you can find humor and something to laugh or joke about in most situations, that this skill can help you weather most storms life will throw your way. It doesn’t mean that you have to constantly share your humor. I keep most of my funny thoughts to myself, but I’m glad I have the ability to do this. I tried to share this with my children…..and I did play a little joke or two from time to time.
When we lived in Ohio, we had a finished basement. One of the rooms was a music room for my oldest son. He was down there playing the drums one day a few weeks before Christmas. I had taken a couple of plastic bags downstairs with me to clean out the cats’ litter box. We used the clumping kind of cat litter and I had just cleaned out several scoops worth of kitty do and kitty pee. My son Tim happened to be in the basement playing with a friend of his who lived down the street.
Tim must have been perhaps 8 or 9 years old. I don’t know what got into me, but I guess I recognized a brilliant opportunity. I yelled out “CHRISTMAS SURPRISE!” Tim didn’t know what I had been doing. All the kids knew was that I had a bag in my hands and was yelling Christmas Surprise and that Christmas was just around the corner. I said, “ok, I have surprise gifts. You have to close your eyes and both reach in together, at the same time”. And they did; it was perfect. They each brought their hands out of the bag at the same time…and yes, they each had a nice little surprise in their hands! At that point, I began cracking up and they both were busy being grossed out, tossing the litter back into the bag and flying upstairs to the bathroom to wash their hands. This is my favorite gag played on one of my kids and it continues to crack me up every time I think about it. I think it’s a guy thing because if a woman overhears my retelling of this story, she acts all grossed out. Meanwhile the husband is cracking up….CHRISTMAS SURPRISE!
Now, with that as the backdrop that sets the tone for what my poor boys have had to put up with, recall earlier I shared with you the story of how I believed for many years that I had sat on a tricycle (read me) and had caused a hernia injury. My son Tim is our baby and he’s very fun to tease because he has a great spirit. Very few things rattle Tim and if he does get rattled, it doesn’t last long. As a child, I had shared with Tim that there were jackalopes – rabbit-like animals with antlers. This was reinforced one day we happened to be somewhere there was a jackalope head on their wall. Tim believed in jackalopes until about the age of 13 or 14. 😉
Perhaps the best ‘long term fib’ that I fed to one of my boys, (lucky Tim), was that “AD” stood for “after dinosaurs”. I shared this with Tim at a very early age, perhaps 7 or so. AD of course is for Latin ‘anno Domini’ (in the year of our Lord). But if you hear AD to mean after dinosaurs since you were 7, well it probably made sense. Someday he would figure out I was pulling his leg, right? That day was to come late in his freshman year in high school.
In 2010, midway into Tim’s freshman year, he came home from school, looked at me with a slight smile on his face and said to me, “well thanks a lot”. I said what? “For embarrassing the crap out of me at school”. I asked what the heck he was talking about. He said, a teacher asked the class if any of us knew what AD stood for and I was the only one who raised his hand. She said “Tim?” ” and so then I said…after dinosaurs”. Then I asked Tim so then what? Tim told me she was smiling and asked him who told him that? So Tim said, “that’s what my dad told me”. “So then she told us all it was some Latin phrase and not after dinosaurs…so then everyone in the class started cracking up and I got to hear about it all day….thanks a lot Dad”.
As he was telling me all about his experience in class, I was cracking up laughing. Tim has a great spirit and so he thought it was really funny as well. “Yeah, it’s like how you told me there were jackalopes and I believed you until I was at the junk yard and they had a bunch of funny jackalope heads on their wall.”
Me and my other boys still tease Tim from time to time about the AD story and we all have a good time with it. Personally, I like to tease and to be teased. If I’m teasing you, I like you – and I work hard to make sure it’s not a harmful tease. Christmas Surprise is another good one I like to repeat. We always have a good laugh with these.
Today I have the benefit of hindsight and being able to look at my boys and see what a great relationship we all have together and with each other. Whenever we’re together we’re always speaking about humorous topics, funny movies and movie lines and generally just trying to make each other laugh. I feel great about how this aspect of their personalities turned out and I hope my boys carry on with the harmless teasing and joking long after I’m gone.