Thursday, August 30, 2012

What would I do for my daughters?

As a father of three girls, I can identify with the cliché, “I would do anything for my children.” There are, however, things I would not do for my girls, for instance, anything illegal, things that would ultimately harm them, or brain surgery.

It is expected that fathers will help their daughters. A mechanic will assure that his daughter’s car is in excellent working condition to keep her safe. Dentists, I am sure, clean their children’s teeth. I could go on about fathers helping daughters with plumbers plumbing, painters painting, carpenters carping, and politicians....well, there is always one exception to prove the rule.

This assistance started at conception, when biological fathers fertilize. I grew up in dairy farm country, so I am well acquainted with this concept of fertilization. Trust me, it is not a pretty thing. In fact most farmers I know fertilize their fields in the dead of winter, when snow blankets them. The snow keeps the organic fertilizer from being so malodorous. Then, in the spring, when it warms up and the smell erupts like a manure filled volcano, the farmer goes on vacation to far away places. This is to escape the stench and to avoid the irate phone calls from neighbors.

The reason I have been thinking about things fathers do for daughters is a recent episode from the ABC television show, The Doctors ( The episode I saw had a cosmetic surgeon who had done some work on both of his daughters. His eldest’s belly button was an outie instead of an innie. He fixed that. His younger daughter had a flat chest and one breast was bigger than the other...or one was smaller than the other, I forget which. He fixed that, when she was 18.

People have all sorts of opinions about this situation. Let me give you mine. This father, in effect, said to his daughters, “I, genetically speaking, am a fertilizing failure as a father. Therefore, let me fix your bodies, so you can be beautiful and successful.” Voilá, one daughter has a chest that sticks out more, and the other a stomach that sticks out less.

The rest of the daughters of the world just have to settle for running vehicles, plumbing and roofs that do not leak, or, in the case of my daughters, a well fertilized sense of humor.

Friday, August 24, 2012

A letter to Eldest

This is, at least for us in the Distaffen household, the last week of summer. Middlest just sat on the couch and said, “I hate myself, I hate this time of year. I am excited that school is starting soon and I hate myself for that. Everything I want to do seems boring. You could invite me to go bungee jumping-- BUNGEE JUMPING-- and I would say, ‘No, thanks, that just seems boring.’”

While Middlest eagerly waits for school to start, Littlest is angry since she may not be able to take all the honors/AP classes she wants. It appears that the easiest way to conform “No Child Left Behind” is to hold the smarter children back. Since it is much easier to keep a smart child from reaching her full potential, than it is to have a less smart child exceed her ability. 

As for Eldest, today is her first day of college. It is only orientation weekend, but it is the start. She says she is nervous and I can understand that. Therefore, if you are looking for my usual funny stuff, be prepared to be disappointed, I have simply written a letter to Eldest and included it here.

Dear Eldest, 

Today you start college. I know you already knew that, but I wanted to remind you. It is a start, a new beginning, a canvas waiting for paint, a parchment waiting for words. 

I am firmly convinced that along the way you are going to make mistakes. To that I say, So what? Who cares? What is the big deal? For thousands of years people have made mistakes and the human race seems to be getting along just fine, and to let you in on a secret, those people whom you think are the most perfect and mistake-less, they too, make mistakes.

I also want to give you a warning, for the past four years, teachers have spoon fed you facts, and in the spirit of “No Child Left Behind”, with a few exceptions, have failed to fully challenge you. There are no bells, to mark the beginning and the end, no herds of people milling about as they move from stanchion to stanchion. No ten week review for a test written by some educational warehouse a thousand miles from your class room. 

Instead, you will be expected to learn, and much of that on your own. Questions will be asked, not only to clarify material and clear up confusion, but to challenge beliefs and encourage critical thinking. And by critical I mean terrifying, heart stopping, thinking. 

Your world will soon go from nice, neat, high school boxes, with black and white labels, and always right and wrong answers, to a terrifying hodge podge of brilliant colors and containers of all shapes and sizes. People and ideas will be far different from what you are used to. To be sure, there will be some definite moral absolutes, “Love God with all your heart, soul and mind and love your neighbor as yourself.” But beyond that, much will be challenged. 

I know you will do well, not only because you are your mother’s daughter, but because you have a strong character, a resilient personality, and a deep love for God. 

So, go forth, enjoy your first steps as an adult. 


Before I posted this, I printed a copy and let Eldest read it. She gave me that special look that teen-aged daughters reserve for their fathers. The look that says, “Male parental unit, you have finally lost every last bit of intelligence. You are officially off your rocker.” That was Eldest’s look and her words to me were, “Dad, I already know this stuff. Haven’t you read my blog?"

Then, I remembered holding Eldest as an infant and praying that she would grow into a young woman who loves God, herself, and others. 

Friday, August 17, 2012

A visit to a true country fair

After a long hectic week, I took my three daughters, plus a friend of Middlest, Mac, to the Wyoming County Fair. We packed up snacks and drinks for the long, treacherous journey from safe suburbia to the wild farmland of Wyoming County. The terror was so horrible that Littlest tossed her cookies in the yard. I was worried about her health, but she said, “Don’t worry dad, they were raisin cookies and the raisins looked like flies.”

With eager anticipation, I watched the skyline of Rochester recede in the rearview mirror and the rolling hills loom in front. As we drove down the road, the four youngsters played the alphabet game, looking for letters in signs and license plates, moving from A to Z. Before the game started there was great discussion as to the rules. Finally we reached Z, and the best letter spotter in the van caught a Z on a passing license plate. I am still basking in the glory of that amazing moment.

The fair is an agricultural wonder of the world. We strolled past displays of gardening skills, judged by the 4-H. People, who take gardening seriously, brought in samples of their produce, not to be eaten, but simply to be judged on appearance. There was blue ribbon winning: luscious green eggplant; vibrant, deep red, tomatoes; bright, sunny summer squash, and gorgeous, smooth, brown rocks.

The main attraction of the fair, other than cotton candy, is looking at other peoples pets. For a few years, Eldest had guinea pigs as pets. At the fair, people displayed their guinea pigs. However, being a strong agricultural community and wanting to be as scientifically correct as possible, they call them cavies. In the building with the cavies are also rabbits, ducks and chickens. These are all reasonable pets and I enjoyed seeing them.

The fair has an entire barn for pigs. When we got there most of the pigs were gone. Many of them apparently had plans for Sunday dinner. Specifically they were Sunday dinner. The next barn was the sheep barn, which was also half empty. This was due to the unfortunate number of families who do not like ham for Sunday Dinner.

The last and largest barn, complete with arena and grandstands, is the cow barn. It is a well established fact that normal children want a puppy for a pet. The good people of Wyoming county are a practical bunch and when their children ask for puppies, practicality kicks into overdrive. The practical parents sit their children down and explain that puppies have no useful purpose other than looking cute and making people ooh and ahh, and that is the best they do. Most of the time puppies are yapping, which is simply practicing to bark as a mature dog, and pooping and peeing on the floor, which always needs cleaning up.

The practical parents then tell their grief stricken children not to cry, but that they have purchased a pet for the child. Whereupon they hand them the halter rope to a three thousand pound bovine. They then tout the advantages of owning a cow: skim, 2%, whole milk, and free fertilizer. Not only that, but a house with a cow in the yard is 75% less likely to be targeted for a robbery.

Friday, August 10, 2012

I can imagine how pole vaulting became an Olympic sport.

I believe in practicality, so I have been watching these Olympic games with that pragmatism in mind. I realize that being fit has its own intrinsic rewards. But I enjoy watching the events and imagining what everyday purpose the events could serve. Some are quite easy to imagine like the running events. Running is an excellent skill, especially if you are being chased by ravenous wild animals or being pursued by evil invading Mongol hordes.

The rowing events are an appropriate sport for an Olympic Games being held on an island. After a ship anchored, sailors would row as fast as they could to shore so they could visit Taco Bell and have something besides fish and chips for dinner.

One of the sports that seems to have most hysterical roots is the pole vault. Jenn Suhr, a native western New Yorker, and alum of my alma mater, Roberts Wesleyan College, placed 1st in the pole vault, and is now the proud owner of a Gold Medal. I took a class at Roberts with Jenn and I am sure she doesn’t remember me, but that is ok and has nothing to do with pole vaulting.

In case you are wondering, pole vaulting has nothing to do with the fine Polish people. The pole in pole vault refers to a long stick that, as the vaulter is hurtling down a runway, stabs a hole in the ground and then leaps into the air, attempting to drive the pole through the hole in order to slay it. To the best of my knowledge, no hole has died during a pole vault, but this is not due to the vaulter’s not trying.

Other than slaying holes in the ground, I could not see any practical application of pole vaulting. That is, until one day when I was stuck in traffic and saw someone pull off on the side of the highway. The driver exited the vehicle and pulled a long stick out. Pointing the stick down the highway, the driver took off at top speed, running down the highway, between the stalled lanes of traffic.

As she approached an overpass, she shoved the pole into an ubiquitous western  New York pothole, stabbing it ruthlessly. She launched herself into the air, further trying to slay the beastly pothole. At the apex of her arc, she let go of the pole and landed easily on the bridge over the highway. She then trotted off to a nearby coffee shop and ordered a moch-frappe-cappu-latte.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

The Olympics, from where I stand--or sit

It is summer Olympic time in the world. These are the sixteen days when the top athletes in the world meet in London to compete in events of athletic prowess to see who is at the top of their game. This is done while the rest of the world’s population stops all physical activity, plops on a couch or comfortable chair, grabs a bowl of unhealthy snack food, and watches all of the competition on television.

Of course, as with any televised event, the favorite activity in our household is critiquing the coverage, commentators, and commercials that come streaming across the screen.

In the commercial category, there are some hands down gold medal winners. In this category are any of the commercials with children or mothers. With the exception of the illegal space aliens living among us, we are all children and all have mothers, so these commercials are easy for the general population to identify with. One such commercial contains a heart warming image of a young male child trying to leap off a concrete platform and land safely in a large vat of water some fifty feet below. It is possible for the child to leap because the platform is without a safety rail around all four sides.

Or another favorite is the “Toddlers-who-wrestle-chairs” commercial. In this commercial event, toddlers of all colors and genders try to pull large pieces of furniture to the floor and pin them. While they do this, referees watch to make sure the toddlers follow all the rules. The commercial ends with these small-bodied, large-headed, little people, pinning the large pieces of furniture every single time. Awesome.

These commercials are total fantasy. This is, after all, America, where we protect our children from all dangers, real or imagined, at all costs. After all, our parents allowed us to play outside for hours, ride our bikes without helmets, and climb trees without nets underneath, and look how this generation turned out.

In the “Epic Fail” category of commercials is the Sears commercial that starts out with a young and, apparently, madly in love, couple frolicking on the beach. The male half of the couple runs down the beach and quickly slams into a large refrigerator. When Middlest saw this, she exclaimed, “What is a refrigerator doing chilling in the middle of the beach?”

There are two types of commentary: the commentary at the venues, and everything else. The voices on the TV, thankfully, have not had a conversation with the voices in my head. Those who speak in venues are awesome. Those individuals are past competitors and present coaches who know the subtleties of the competition and  take every opportunity to tell us how much they know.

The second type of commentary is the between the broadcast of venues, when talking heads sit in chairs and talk...and talk and talk. During the coverage I have observed on NBC, I have seen a number of high profile celebrities being broadcast. With names like, Mick Alfreds, John Mac N Cheese, and Ryan Watercress Salad. I have come to the conclusion that no matter how well known and highly paid these people are, babbling is still babbling. Case in point, Mr. Mac N Cheese was talking about water-polo. In describing the play, he used the analogies of a rodeo and a headless chicken, saying, “Water polo, well, it is like, you see, a bull named Fu-Manchu, riding a headless chicken for 8 seconds, to get across my point."

Lastly, and speaking of NBC, the network has taken a lot of heat for it’s ability to predict the future outcomes of events. Case in point, they were able to air a trailer from the excited reunion of swimmer Missy Franklin with her parents after she won the gold medal, a full 5 minutes before she swam in the meet. NBS has mastered the ability of breaking news, video taping it, and airing it, before it has even happened.