Stop. Examine the disclaimer at the bottom of this column. It reads, in part, “The Daily Advocate does not endorse…the independent activities of the author.” Good for you, Daily Advocate! Smart move. With one sentence you have sheltered yourself from abject disrepute and perhaps even a lawsuit or two. Give your legal counsel, or whoever proposed this disclaimer, a fruitcake this Christmas, for I am undeniably a man whose activities should not be endorsed.
As regular readers know only too well, I’ve good-naturedly (or so I think) aired a bit of my immediate family’s dirty laundry in this space, so it’s only fair I expose a bit of my own in the service of this thesis. There is certainly plenty of material to draw from.
Like, say, the time I got stuck in traffic on interstate 435, east of Kansas City, on a sweltering July afternoon. I was in a hurry to get to an event sponsored by the law firm I was working for as a student clerk, my crappy Volkswagon was threatening to overheat during the standstill, and my frustration level was beginning to skyrocket. Despite the 90+ degree heat outside, I turned on the car’s heater full blast, hoping to draw heat away from the simmering engine and prevent a minor disaster. As a consequence, the interior of the car quickly became a dry sauna and I couldn’t breathe. I rolled the windows down to allow “fresh”, 95 degree, exhaust-saturated air to enter the car. I had no idea what tragic circumstances produced my predicament, and I didn’t care. I was furious. Seething. After five minutes or so I could contain myself no longer and exploded in a torrent of expletives and wild karate chops to my indifferent, impassive dashboard. After indulging in this ridiculous and vulgar display for a half minute or so (which, trust me, is a pretty long time to be cursing at the top of your lungs and smashing your hand against a hard object), I stopped, emotionally and physically spent. Then I looked over and spotted an elderly couple in a Lincoln Continental in the next lane, staring at me with mouths agape. Their windows were down and, oh yeah, so were mine. They’d heard every disgusting four letter gem and I realized I’d been exposed as the venal jerk that I am.
Then there’s the time I helped Abby get ready for bed when she was a toddler and needed a little assistance with the teeth-brushing part of her nighttime routine. I don’t recall why, but I was exhausted and bleary-eyed as I squeezed paste onto her toothbrush and handed it to her. She innocently took it, placed it in her mouth and dutifully began the circular motion she’d been taught to execute. “PFFFFFFFFTTTTTTT!!” She involuntarily contorted her face and spat repeatedly in the sink. “PFFFFFFTTTTTT!” she echoed over and over. I looked at the tube and discovered I’d mistaken Kroger’s Brand Diaper Rash Ointment for Children’s Colgate (it could happen to anyone!), and my annoyance morphed into guilt in the blink of an eye.
Or the time I was on the field during one of Daniel and Luke’s baseball games, helping “coach” and prevent Daniel from sustaining a major injury. Luke, a solid athlete, was at shortstop when an opposing team’s batter belted a pitch deep into the outfield. I hollered at him to go out further and get the cutoff throw, which he did. By the time he received the ball the batter was nearing third and still chugging. “Throw it home! Throw it home! Throw it home!” I bellowed. Luke held the ball and looked around frantically, anxious and confused. “LUKE, WHATAREYOUDOING? THROW! IT! HOME!” I screamed, like Bobby Knight on amphetamines. He looked at me, dumbfounded, with a tear forming in one eye. “Dad…which one is home?” he asked sheepishly. “Mr. Earth?” I asked silently. “Yes, Tim.” “Swallow me now, pretty please.”
Oh, yes, my repulsive collection of “independent activities” could fill an encyclopedia several times over, with episodes to spare. Instead of disavowing me or otherwise shielding themselves from my poisonous influence, however, my family and friends have elected (I think) to shepherd me, step by painstaking step, to a place where my better angels tend to dwell. I don’t understand why, but I’m grateful even as I acknowledge their patience might be wearing just a bit thin. As Abby recently told me, after I’d apologized for one ridiculous behavior or another, “that’s okay dad. We’ll be patient with you. You seem to be learning. But you might want to step it up a bit.”
Timothy Swenson is the author of the weekly column series Virtue and Mischief that is published every Tuesday in The Daily Advocate. He can be reached at email@example.com. Viewpoints expressed in these opinion pieces are the work of the author. The Daily Advocate does not endorse these viewpoints or the independent activities of the author.