Monday, June 13, 2011

An embarrassing job, but someone's gotta do it

As the father of three, it has been my privilege, nay my honor, to in fact fulfill the duties of parenthood. Offering instruction and correction, providing for them, hauling them to various and sundry sporting events and activities -- yes, the previous two decades or so have been packed full of trying to live up to what a father should be. One area where I think I could have been better was in the necessary realm of embarrassing my kids in front of their friends. I just haven't done enough.

I wasn't the parent at the little league games screaming at my boys to “just hit the ball” or the one dragging out baby photos when my son started bringing dates home. I haven't attended school dances only to join in when “Solja Boy” gets played. Quite frankly, I'm a failure in this area. But I have a new hero.

His name is Dale Price. Dale found out this year that his 16-year-old son's bus route had changed at the beginning of the school year, and that each school day, his boy would ride past the house once again. So Dale took action. He decided he would stand outside the house and wave at the bus when it went by. Every day. Oh, but not just that. That wouldn't be embarrassing enough. This is the part that makes Dale my new hero. For each of the 170 days his son rode the bus to school, Dale dressed for the occasion. On the second day, he stood outside in a San Diego Chargers helmet and jersey waving to the bus. On the third day, he donned an Anakin Skywalker helmet. The next day it was swim trunks and a snorkel. You're starting to get the picture now, right? For 170 days, Dale didn't reuse a costume, taking on identities as varied as Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz to Ariel of The Little Mermaid. He wore bunny costumes, cowboy gear, an orange prison jumpsuit, and even a lampshade, all in the name of embarrassing his teenage son. Bravo, Sir Dale! Bravo!

I was also amazed that Dale spent less than $50 for the costumes and props. Most were borrowed. He pointed out that it's amazing what your neighbors have in their closets. I'd rather not ask. You can see pictures from each day of the odyssey at if you need some ideas for possibly creating some red faces in your own family.

Have you seen the Toyota commercial where the cool kid is next to the unfortunate kid at a stoplight? The poor embarrassed boy tells his friend, “They've been singing the same song for the last three hours!” Cut to Mom and Dad loudly indulging in another chorus of “Angel of the Morning” as the boy continues to cringe. That's some fine work, right there.

But let's be realistic: Some kids are embarrassed just by the mere existence of parents. They like to think of themselves as independent agents -- in their 20s with their own place and lifestyle, not as dependent on people who are, well, OLD! And the thought that these parents were once kids too, engaged in stuff that would get them in trouble, well, that is almost too much to bear.

I think I have been relatively unembarrassing for my kids. Now, they may well argue that point. I am who I am, but I have resisted the urge to purposely find ways to cause them to slink down in their seats. Perhaps that means I have fallen down in my parental duties. I would have likely been mortified if my friends had to listen to my Dad sing, “I'm an Old Cowhand (From the Rio Grande)” as we rode along, but he was usually considerate along those lines.

And I have a hunch that Dale's 16-year-old son has come to appreciate his Dad over the past 170 mornings on the bus. Not everyone's parent cares enough to do something, no matter how foolish, for him every school day for a year. And I'm sure the kids on the bus got more than a good chuckle seeing Dale dressed as a pirate or a house painter or a superhero each day. I'm betting the kid got a few chuckles himself as well. So maybe embarrassment isn't such a horrible thing for a teenager. And so perhaps I'll accompany my daughter to her first day of fourth grade next year wearing a hula skirt, singing, “I've Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts.” Do you think she'll mind?

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