You’re doing it wrong

It’s all Michael Keaton‘s fault.

I never really learned that much in school. By the time I actually started elementary school, I pretty much already knew most of the things that I needed to know. My parents had taught me my ABC’s and 123s by the time I was three years old. From my pre-school age trips to the local market, I learned all about addition and subtraction and thanks to Florida’s Byzantine sales tax structure I was forced to learn multiplication. I used our cross country road trips to my dad’s construction jobs to learn geography and about the governmental system of our great nation. And after learning to read out of the King James bible, I was thoroughly over-prepared for Curious George and his literary counterparts. The conspicuous absence of “thy” and “thou” in those books made it all so very simple to read.

Still, school was able to teach me a few lessons. I learned not to insult children larger than myself. I also learned how to dissect a frog, because there is SUCH a high demand for amphibian butchers, and I learned to loathe Pythagoras and his damn theorem, more useless information. Since school had a limited amount of useful information to impart to me, I had to find other avenues of education to pursue. And what a great one did I find.

I discovered a wonderful palace of learning. It was a carpeted temple of thought and reflection. It was frequented by all types of deep thinkers, regardless of their age. This holy library of information must have invested heavily in its pursuit of knowledge  based on the fact that a small popcorn and a box of raisinettes cost me an entire month’s allowance. The school for me was the movie theater, and class was always in session.

It is impossible to recount all of the great lessons I learned within its darkened halls. But, here is but a sample of that which I had learned.

  • From Star Wars, I learned that the solitary old man that lives on the outskirts of town can teach a young man many lessons. Lessons like avoiding creepy old men that live on the outskirts of towns.
  • The martial arts films of Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan taught me that you should never be afraid if the bad guys outnumber you because only one of the villians attacks at a time.
  • The Color Purple taught me that “she has that nasty woman disease”
  • A young Tom Cruise taught me that if your parents go out of town, its Ferrari and hooker time.
  • Indiana Jones taught me that Archeologists are good and Nazis are bad. Where else could I learn that lesson?
  • Better off Dead and the Karate Kid taught me that blonde kids are evil.
  • Die Hard taught me not to mess with John McClain. It also taught me that if Karl would have killed that  desk cop when he came out of Nakatomi Plaza, we never would have heard of Urkel.

These lessons and many other I accepted as gospel truths and even though the people that portrayed these characters may have fallen on hard times, I looking at you pedophile actor that played Mr. Rooney, there was nothing that they could do to invalidate my beliefs in what I was taught from the silver screen.

The 1980s were a haven for quality actors and incredible movies from which to learn. It was the hay-day of actors like Nicholson, Streep, and Hackman. And while the great dramas of the day were no doubt of great benefit to me, it was the light hearted comedies of the day that really spoke to me. These did more that just impact basic facts and figures, they also helped me to develop my ideas as to they what was acceptable roles for men and women and their relationships that this always entails. It was more than just lessons, it was the mores that I hold to this day. Of the actors at whose feet I learned at, no one seemed to be more prevalent in my young formative years than Michael Keaton. He was prolific and in every role he played that wise cracking every man that I so wanted  wanted to be.   From the city morgue worker turned pimp in Night Shift to the rock star turned snowman in Jack Frost, he exemplified the ideal that people can change there roles in life and find the inner strength to be a success. From his roles in movies like Pacific Heights and Desperate Measures he showed that even the nicest guys have that dark matter that can make us… I mean them…. homicidal maniacs, I would say that this is probably not the best lesson for an eleven year old to learn but then again maybe it is. Most of all his roles taught me about family, Whether it was Beetlejuice or Johnny Dangerously, there was always this lesson that no matter how unconventional your family might me, it is the love and care you have for each other that defines what being in a family really means(Put that in your pipe and smoke it Chick-fil-a).

Of all these films that affected me, one of the most memorable was Mr. Mom. First let me tell you about the world I come from. I grew up in a traditional family in a neighborhood full of  traditional families. The gender roles were specific and unchanging. The mother stayed at home and cared for the house and children while the fathers went off into the world as the breadwinner and their sole responsibility was to provide economic support through working. Moms were the ones that were emotionally connected to the kids, and the dads just had to bring home a paycheck and man the barbecue grill on holidays. These were the roles that we saw and these were the roles that we accepted. Then in 1982, when I was 9, along came this movie that would affect me in ways it would take years to understand. The basic premise is that during the early 80s recession, a husband and father loses his job and when his wife gets hired by an ad agency, he is forced to perform the duties that the woman of the house always has, an oh how the hi-jinks ensue. The way the man  is so woefully unprepared for all that managing the household entails makes for an endless assortment of sight gags and one liners. And in the end, the man gets rehired and although the wife also continues her career everything seems back to normal. The man learns how to be the caregiver and the wife learns how to be the bread winner, but as a young child, it was the buffoonish portrayal of the father’s early forays into domestic chores that really stuck with me. My childish mind told me,”OH. That’s why mom does the housework and dad leaves every morning. Cause dad is too stupid to know how to do laundry.” Although I realize that this may not have been a complete truth, it was the lesson that I had learned.

Fast forward 30 years. After resigning my position with my company due to taking a new position with an international finance firm, I  found I would have a two month window of unemployment before my new job began. I would be the caregiver in my home as my wife continues to work. I would be Mr. Mom. And after the first week one thing became abundantly clear, Michael Keaton is full of crap. I know he’s just an actor, but I believed him and it was all one big pile of lies. I know one might say that due to the fact that my kids are considerably older that the ones belonging to the  character Keaton played , my experience is not completely comparable, but it is close enough for me to make the finding that just because you have a y-chromosome doesn’t make you unqualified to care for the home.

Not that there weren’t some adjustments. Due to the fact that I had not had any real time off from work in the past 6 years, it took a couple of days off before I really got into the swing of things. However once I did I am glad to say that I make one kick ass housewife. Perhaps if I had never worked outside the home, I would probably feel differently. However, after working for years in the pouring rain and the stifling Florida heat for people that aren’t smart enough to manage their way out of a wet paper bag it’s hard for me to get stressed out because I have to clean the toilet or take the kids to buy clothes.  When you are expected to make deliveries on the same day that a tropical storm is coming through town, doing laundry is really not that big a deal. Unlike Keaton’s character, I never fed a baby chili nor ruined the stove because I didn’t know how to boil water. I may not be Martha Stewart but I can cook well enough that none of my kids starved and the house was just clean enough to keep the DCF from making a visit.

It does however take a bit of adjustment to get used to the  domestic chores involved, especially those that take place outside the home. The simple difference in experience between grocery shopping at 9 in the morning and 7 in the evening are amazing. In the morning, the stores are fully stocked while delivery people service the shelves ensuring only the freshest product is available for purchase.  In the evening, the shelves have more exposed metal than a decommissioned aircraft carrier. The products that are available during the evening are also far worse. Let’s just say that the produce is of a  far more mahogany hue than it is during the morning hours. Additionally in the evening, the sandwich bread has a greater resemblance to croutons than you would like.  The are other grocery related differences are how during the daytime hours there are far fewer customers at the regular magazine rack and far more at the Large Print  Book and prune displays, but that is to be expected considering how I witnessed a three way octogenarian fight over the sole remaining handicapped parking space . Also, they have to do regular traffic reports within the store just to accommodate the vast numbers of Hoveround Power Chairs and Rascals filling the aisles. And while this may be a bit of an inconvenience, the ability to shop without running into co-workers and former bosses is definitely worth the trouble.

There is also the benefit of being able to help out at the kids school. Because when it comes to just pure entertainment value nothing beats a public school. Of course I find ways to ratchet up the fun. While I would never drink alcohol even the night before I am scheduled to volunteer at the school, I love the uncomfortable silences and dirty looks that one gets if they dab just a splash of whiskey on their shirt and refer to the Crown Royal bag that you put your money in as your “wallet”. And despite what those Cinemax after Dark movies tell ya,  there is absolutely nothing in the world as unsexy as a middle aged school teacher. I am sorry but the smell of Elmer’s paste does not have any aphrodisiac qualities.

And while I will be going back to work soon, I will never forget my months I spent as Mr. Mom. The kids, the chores, the dinners were all so enjoyable. So I guess it is true what they say about the best part of being unemployed is:

When you wake up, you are already on the job.

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