Photo from crappydads.com
I asked my dad what he wanted for Father’s Day, and like all dads who never abandoned their children he said, “Nothing.” I insisted he must want something and he said, “I would be content in an abyss” before adding, “if there was a chair there, that would be great. If there was a six-pack, that would be good too, but an abyss is fine.” It made me wish I had one of those loser dads who was never around. They always want something.
I’ve been fascinated by deadbeat dads since I first came across one at age ten. My best pal Dale was sitting on his bed crying. His father had promised to take him fishing but had to bail due to some complicated story about a sick friend. “What are you crying about, Dale?” I asked incredulously. “You don’t have to hang out with your dad. That’s awesome!”
I saw my dad way too often for my liking, but Dale got to see his dud once a year at best. One year, instead of sending himself, Dale’s dad delivered a beautiful oil painting of…Dale’s dad. The painting always disturbed me—not only because of the guy’s Danny DeVito demeanor but because he was wearing a cheap hockey jacket with the Montreal Canadiens logo on the side. You can’t dress up when you’re being immortalized?
This is the how deadbeat dads think. They don’t dress up. They don’t even show up. They’re perpetual children who love nothing but themselves and their favorite sports team. And they’re all the same. Comparing them is like catching up with identical twins separated at birth.
Sam is a teacher in Northern Ontario. His dad is now living in Japan after forsaking Sam and his mother twenty years earlier. Sam is almost thirty and has a strange admiration for this directionless turd. “I’m going to Tokyo to help him,” he told me during a recent visit to New York. “His art is all over the place and he needs someone to help him archive it.” I’ve heard this sort of thing several times from fatherless children. I told Sam his time would be better spent archiving the family photos his mother took while holding down two jobs and making sure her two sons finished school—photos from which his father is conspicuously absent.
I work with a guy named Sebastian who didn’t see much of his dad after age four. His father is also an “artist,” but he buries his art. He does his sketches on paper plates and buries them in the backyard after they get too numerous to store. Like Sam, Sebastian reveres this nut and was recently at his home helping him get his hoarder lifestyle in order. Deadbeat dads rarely sell their creations. That would involve getting involved but contributing to society is not what they’re all about. “Me” is what they’re all about.
“Did I tell you I like turtles?” asked Jesse’s dad in a recent email to his long-lost son. Jesse is a writer I used to work with, and he had gotten in contact with his father despite his mother’s vehement eye-rolling. I was privy to his dad’s emails and they were hilarious. “Let’s get a hotel room and just sit down and talk to each other. We’ll be brutally honest and get it all out.” Sure, dad. Let’s take care of two decades in a couple of hours.
What deadbeat dads don’t seem to comprehend is that being a father is not a full-time job. You get breaks from a full-time job. Being a dad is an 86,400-second-a-day job. If you hear creaking in the middle of the night, you wake up and go into the hallway to see if your kid is sleepwalking or, God forbid, an intruder has busted into the house. Later, when you wake up for real, you tell them to stop harassing their mother about how soggy the cereal is. Then you help them get dressed. You can’t help too much, because you want them to learn. When it’s time to leave, you let them open the door but you don’t show them how to undo the deadbolt because that’s not safe. The stairs are tricky and you want to carry them down, but it’s important they get better at stairs and now is as good a time as any. Navigating the street outside is like walking a tightrope between protecting them and encouraging their independence. And that’s only one small part of one morning of one day. The fact that deadbeat dads think they can possibly catch up cracks me up.
Jesse and I eventually realized his dad had mentioned turtles on the off chance Jesse was in the gift-buying mood and needed some inspirado. This is common among the deadbeat set. My neighbor Claire’s biological father gives her a Christmas list every year. He never buys anyone anything but in case you’re interested, he’d love another NY Giants towel.
It’s not easy to buy a Father’s Day gift for good dads, because the only thing they want is for you to be healthy and happy. BORING! I can’t be bothered getting my dad a Father’s Day gift. He already has an abyss. But if you’re out shopping this weekend, Dale’s dad would like a Maurice “The Rocket” Richard movie poster (framed), Sam’s dad would like a sable-hair paintbrush, Sebastian’s dad would like a Civil War knife, Jesse’s dad would like a spiny turtle shell, and Claire’s dad already got the towel but would like a chrome Giants clock.