Why Don't He Write? (Or Read)

There's a scene in the movie Dances With Wolves that always cracks me up. Lt. John J. Dunbar (Kevin Costner) hitches a ride with a crass drayage teamster known as Timmons (Robert Pastorelli) across the untamed prairie land enroute to the frontier outpost Dunbar has requested to be transferred to. It's clear Dunbar's romantic idealism about the wild west and its Native American inhabitants cloud his understanding of the harsher realities that surround him. Dunbar begins to get a sense of this after he and Timmons happen upon a half decayed corpse riddled with arrows. Shocked, Dunbar stands in silence at this unsettling discovery. Timmons, however, leans down over the body, and then breaks out in laughter before joking, "I bet somebody back East's askin' 'Why don't he write?'"

That's me at the moment--the dead guy shot full of arrows--which is my way of explaining why I'm not writing as much (on my blog anyway) now and over the next few weeks. Why? For one, we're in the middle of moving from our apartment to a house (yay), and with me being the only one home, guess who's doing the majority of the packing/unpacking?

Once the move's over with, the girls are off school eating significantly into my goof off time. Then, later in June we will be going on vacation up north where we will also be picking up my boys who will be staying with us for all of July (YAY!). Of course this also means that I will be entertaining five kids for that month while keeping up with other writing assignments and deadlines (plus a few book signings and prep for some speaking engagements). Still, crazy as it will be, I'm really looking forward to the time together with my whole family.

I should say too that the above mentioned reasons will also greatly reduce the amount of time I can spend reading many of the great blogs I otherwise regularly visit. Unfortunately, it's during these slow blog periods when I tend to lose a fraction of regular readers, because they don't think I like them anymore. Not so. I still think you're awesome. Understand, it's nothing personal; it's just family.

However, that all said, I will stay in contact via Twitter, Facebook, etc and will have a number of articles and guest posts coming up over the next several weeks at places like DadCentric, The Good Men Project Magazine, The M3 Summit blog, Houston Family Magazine, and The Tsunammi Mommy, as well as joining a talented bunch of writers at new online men's magazine called Man of the House.Com. Along with this, I'll be having several guests posters posting here and I'll be sharing thoughts on a couple great dad books, Tales From The Trips by John Cave Osborne and Stefan Lanfer's The Faith Of A Child.

So bear with me as we move through the summer together, but above all, thanks to all of you for sticking with me through the year. As always, you humble me.




You can read more such drivel in my book,
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Here's Your Sign... To Australia



My blogging buddy and fellow comic geek Justin ran my guest post on his blog Howefitz this past Friday, but I didn't get a chance to make an announcement. The topic is Australia, (no connection to Oceanic Flight 815) which may seem random except that his stepdaughter has been accepted into a program where she can serve as an ambassador to the Land Down Under--and based on my knowledge of that great country, we're going to need a little goodwill to make up for it. You can read about it by clicking here.


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My Urologist Is The Smoke Monster

With the impending finale of LOST only a few hours from its conclusion, I am struggling to find something to fill the void of taking seemingly random occurrences and tying them together in order to solve near impossible mysteries. What’s more, despite the current list of pseudo-replacements already on TV, I’m not convinced these quite measure up to the originality or sophistication surrounding the plight of Oceanic Flight 815’s now iconic cast of characters. This is just my opinion. Others are welcome to disagree, but whatever the case, I am still left without a suitable replacement—or I was anyway, until a recent series of actual events too strange to be ignored took place. My brain is now preoccupied by this new challenge of connecting these enigmatic dots in the hopes of forming a coherent theory as to what’s going on and why I appear to be a central figure.

Here’s what I have to work with. The Friday before last, I was working out at the fitness center when in walked a man who easily could have won a Saddam Hussein look-alike contest. Striking as this was, it’s not that detail that qualified him as unusual in my mind; that would be reserved for the two large, white cockatoos riding on his shoulders. My initial thought was that the man was checking the place out, a notion proved wrong when he launched into series of bench-presses with the birds perched on either end of the weight bar. Interesting.

Out of politeness, I really try to ignore these sorts of things; however, this becomes infinitely more difficult when such a person steps onto the running machine directly beside you and places his spike-feathered birds on the TV monitor affixed to the treadmill’s console. In fact, I’d dare say it’s damn near impossible, especially when these menacing creatures are staring straight at you as they violently bob up and down a mere eighteen inches from your head. This is when I decided to skip the cool-down portion of my run and casually exit the premises, but not before catching the narrow gaze of the bird’s owner.

The next incident occurred less than a week later during a quick trip to Wal-Mart which is a well-known hotbed of oddity unto itself (kind of like the Dharma Initiative gone wrong). As I was entering the store, a perfectly sane looking woman, pushing a two-seated baby stroller was headed out. There was nothing particularly remarkable about her—mid-twenties, modest dress, well-groomed. Then she swerved directly into my path.

“Do you speak Spanish?” she asked in a tone that would’ve made me feel criminal if I actually did hable the Español.

“Uh, no. Can I—“

“I need a ride home!”

All at once something struck me as not right. The boldness in her demand combined with the absence of such amicable qualifiers as, “Pardon me, sir,” and, “You might think me crazy for asking this, but,” caused me to invent a spontaneous, yet plausible excuse as to why I could not ferry her off to only God knows where. The resulting expression on her face made me think I had denied her a wallet full of money (not that I had one on me), rather than refusing to assist her in a time of need. Strange.

This brings me to the “phone call,” which was anything but ordinary. Before getting into the specifics, however, I need to take you back to my high profile vasectomy in December. I’m not sure whether it was due to the lingering embarrassment suffered from the lengthy peek my urologist’s young female assistants were afforded by my man parts, or simply the indignity suffered from shuffling with my head hung low like a neutered dog through an attentive waiting room, but whatever the reason, I was long overdue in returning for my follow up.

At the insistence of my wife, I finally scheduled the required visit in order to drop off what the young lady (one of the two mentioned earlier) referred to in a hushed, cryptic voice as “the package.” “The package” as it turns out proved to be wee bit more difficult for me to produce than I had expected, an issue that may or may not have been influenced by the distracting litany of errands I had on tap for the day, the foremost of which included picking out a present for my stepdaughter’s upcoming birthday.

Somehow, despite the obstacle, I managed to come through, and soon I was headed to the drop off point. The exchange went smoothly with neither the assistant nor myself making eye contact in the handoff, although this is also when I noticed that bag containing “the package” was emblazoned with the logo for a new medication meant to help men with lower than normal levels of testosterone. But whatever, I just needed a green light from the doctor and all would be forgotten (until my next and final visit anyway).

By the time I got back home, the office was already calling with the results—and here’s the part where it gets weird. A female voice on the other end of the receiver passed along the following instructions—and I quote: “The doctor wants you to ejaculate as much as possible for the next month before seeing him again.” Yes, that’s exactly what she said, and I’m betting your reaction's the same as mine—it’s a code for something. Intriguing.

No one in their right mind would ever utter such a sentence and actually mean it. How else could that young lady have delivered such a message and done so with a straight face, which is more than I can say for my wife who laughed for a full twenty minutes after I relayed the news to her.

Still, I’m convinced there’s some sort of tie-in to the earlier mentioned incidents. The evidence pointing to this is overwhelming. And I haven’t even mentioned the errant Beanie Baby polar bear found in the girls’ bedroom, or the hostile band of people know as the “whoevers” inhabiting the other side of the apartment complex, or stranger still, the unexplained gravitational force that sucks silverware and food clean off the kitchen table and down onto the floor underneath.

Since “the phone call,” though, I’ve been working my brain into knots trying to piece together the clues, and I’ve arrived at a few theories. The guy at the gym? He’s a former Saddam Hussein body double who escaped to the U.S. and now works as a hit man hired to keep me away from learning the truth. (Come on. White cockatoos? That’s a dead giveaway). As far as the lady who approached me at Wal-Mart, my guess is that she recognized me because we knew each other in some alternate, sideways dimension; the babies in her stroller, however, I am quite sure are not hers, and she’s only raising them until their mother can be found in the jungle where she was last seen.

Admittedly, it was the secret message in “the phone call” that baffled me the longest. After hours of over thinking, it dawned on me how simple the explanation was. Ejaculate for a month before returning to see the doctor? Obviously this is the timetable for when the seamen in the submarine would be returning to the island a month from now. Of course! This all became clear to me once I realized the true identity of my urologist. Yeah, he’s the smoke monster.



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Bullies

I was talking to my oldest son, Noah, on the phone the other night when he changed the subject with, ”Hey, Dad, guess you didn’t hear the news.” Indeed I had not, and knowing my son, whatever he was about to share with me could range from his completing a new level on a video game, to a little known fact concerning the history of Chechnya.

“A kid in my class brought a knife to school today,” he said with a surprising amount of nonchalance.

What?! This was not what I was expecting to hear, and the ensuing details were even more disconcerting.

“Yup. Had it in the bathroom and was going to use it on another fifth grader in our class,” Noah continued. “He’s going to be suspended for life, and probably getting arrested for attempted murder.”

“Did you know him,” I asked, the alarm in my voice evident.

“Yeah. Sits next to me in class. Not a nice guy.”

“Let me talk to your mom.”

To say that I was concerned would’ve been an understatement. However, as I said before, I also know my son. Where voids exist between the facts of a particular incident, Noah fills these gaps in using the full resources of his logic and imagination. If a boy brings a weapon to school it only stands to reason that, as a known bully, his intent is to use it, the end result of which would mean suspension and hard time in the big house. This is why I suppressed my initial reaction of freaking out until after hearing the adult version of the same incident, and like so many times before, this proved to be a sound course of action.


Turns out the situation, although still serious, wasn’t quite as bad. Yes, a boy in Noah’s class had been caught carrying a knife—a pocketknife to be more exact. The reason was unclear, but apparently he was showing it off to some other kids while in the restroom, and they smartly told a teacher. Once the details were sorted out, the principal notified parents. Hearing this calmed my immediate concerns, but it also raised new ones, specifically about my son's future.

It didn’t bother me that Noah’s account contained a little more commentary. He’s on a major crime-solving kick at the moments, so playing detective and theorizing as to motive and intent would’ve been too hard to resist. No, what worries me is that my son has become a target for bullies like this kid.

Noah is special. I realize every parent feels that way about their own children, but what I’m referring to here is my son’s issues with ADD. Along with all the lack of focus and the disorganization, Noah tends to daydream which is further enhanced by his medication, sending him into periods of deep concentration on whatever topic interests him that moment. This can last all day, and rather than play with the other kids at recess, he will spend the time walking around the playground alone in his thoughts.

When he does interact with his classmates, Noah will ramble on, unaware of the social cues indicating a person has stopped listening. What’s more, the things he likes to talk about are usually outside the realm of what eleven year-olds are into these day. (I wasn’t kidding about the details of Chechnian history. One teacher relayed to me how Noah held up class because he wanted to know how the New York Stock Exchange worked.) This sort of behavior tends to make him stick out, and not in a good way as far as some kids see it. Already there have been problems.

One boy has been antagonizing Noah for most of the year to the point my son was even seeing the school councilor about how to deal with things. I wasn’t even made aware of this until his mother mentioned it to me after Noah got into a fist-fight with another bully during a school trip. Fed up with the constant harassment, Noah finally hauled off and let the punk have it. To the teacher and principal, the circumstances were clear, and Noah didn’t get in trouble. His mother and I, although not proponents of fighting, also agreed that because he repeatedly had asked for help, Noah did the right thing in standing up for himself.

Bullies abound. The consequences of their cruelty now make national headlines. Victims who feel trapped in extreme cases commit suicide or shoot classmates to escape. Tragic as this is, I never paid the issue much attention beyond extending a brief moment of sympathy for those involved. Things are different now.

This fall Noah will start middle school where the bullies are larger, meaner and seemingly even more bereft of a conscious. Picturing him pitted against such circumstances triggers an anger in me from knowing what little control I have over the situation. No longer is my son the little boy who liked to wear my Army gear around and sit in my lap while I read him stories. His innocence was still intact back then in a world that was safer, and one where I could protect him.

Yet, the reality of me protecting him was only a mirage, a brief few years lasting just long enough to convince my brain that it would always be that way even though my heart was telling me otherwise. Now I have no choice but to listen to that voice. Now I have to believe it when it says for me to put my faith in those lessons I’ve taught Noah about what’s good in this life, why some people are the way they are, how to avoid them if possible, and when’s the right time to throw a solid right hook. Sometimes, though, it’s hard to hear that voice over the taunts of a harsh world









This post brought to you by Dad-Blogs and their weekly edition of Fatherhood Friday.


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Clark Gets Canned

Thought this was funny.



Guess this can happen to anyone. Maybe he could start a blog.

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Turning Into My Mother

In honor of mothers everywhere (yeah, I know it's the day after), I'd like to run this piece from Houston Family Magazine. See if any of the phrases I use are part of your repertoire and do you have others? Hope you enjoy.



I'm Turning Into My Mother

A few weeks ago Allie and Avery were pestering me as I was trying to have a phone conversation with my mother. About the third or fourth time they interrupted me—this time over some argument involving the Wii and term limits—I rolled my eyes in exasperation. “Oh brother! You kids could fight over a turd in the middle of the road!” Even though I muffled the receiver, Mom still heard me and was now laughing so hard she couldn’t breathe.

Read the rest at Houston Family Magazine.



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The Average Mom: Happy Mother's Day

Happy Mother's Day to all of the great and wonderful moms out there. This is an older post from a while back, but it has no less meaning in the expression of gratitude for my mother.

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When you have a mom as interesting as mine, there's no way you can let Mother's Day pass without writing a little something about her. Now, when I say interesting, I don't mean she has the world's largest collection of Hummel Figurines, or she's a fugitive, hiding out from the government for blowing up a university lab thought to be conducting military testing for the Johnson administration. I suppose there a handful of people out that would think those things very cool, but my mom is interesting for the plane and simple fact she's my mom (that, and because I have no idea how she managed to deal with the shenanigans instigated by my sisters and I over the years).

My earliest memory of my mother would have been my second Christmas (making me about a year and 9 months). Actually, it would've been Christmas Eve, as I watched her from the living room part of our trailer house making another batches of holiday cookies. I'm not sure why this particular memory is my first, but I'd like to believe as I watched her I knew I was safe and loved. I'm sure my mom has many other memories of me predating that one, but the one I seem to hear the most often is when we sat together in the basement of the Blooming Valley Methodist Church singing children's songs before Sunday School was to begin. According to her, right in the middle of "Jesus Loves Me" I thrust my finger about two inches from her face revealing an enormous booger of baffling proportions.

"Where do I put this, Mom?" I asked. I guess I just figured with all the other problems she solved, booger disposal seemed only natural.

My mom has a creative gene in her that she has passed to all of her children. It seems she is always vested in one project or another - most of which involved her creating something with her hands. Sewing is the talent she is best known for, having stitched up any number of items ranging from antique doll dresses and all my three sister's school clothes, to the furniture in need of reupholstering and the occasional Halloween costume and . She quilts without a machine, and everyone gets one for their wedding or the birth of a child. Beyond this, mom has done ceramics, mosaics, country crafts, and a host of other things I'm probably not aware of (origami, cup stacking and decorative pipe bombs).

I have been lucky enough to receive her talent for painting and drawing, as it's her paintings from before she was married that made me think I could paint too. I also inherited something else: a screw-ball sense of humor. A while back we were talking on the phone and she mentioned some papers she had written in college - ones she didn't take that seriously and decided to interject her own slants on the matter. The more she talked the more evident it became that satire runs quietly in her blood.

Growing up through high school seems a blur. Like everyone else at that age I was just as self-absorbed in processing my transition into adulthood, which means I probably missed the many times my mom went above and beyond or out of her way to guide me. Still, there are a few memories that stick out. During some of my big basketball and soccer games, she would somehow manage to sneak in a card or a note telling me how proud she was, along with a reminder to just relax and enjoy myself. I don't know if I ever told her, but those notes meant allot and even more so for the act itself, not just what was said. For some, having their mother show up to a game is a more than enough, but that extra step of offering written encouragement made me feel pretty special as her son.

Of course there's a backlash effect accompanying her love for me as I performed in the sports arena. No one got to talk trash about my mama. During a soccer game a member of the opposing team alluding to being an acquaintance of my mother's to which I promptly responded by tripping him and them stomping on his neck with my soccer cleat. He was carried off the field and I was given a yellow card. On another occasion I was playing in a pre-season basketball game when I and my opponent dove for a loose ball. As we grappled for control, he commented on mother's reproductive preferences. I merely smiled as I got up off the floor, and then swung my knee into the side of his head knocking him unconscious. Needless to say I spent the next three quarters and the bus ride home alone, accompanied by only my sister who was the team manager. She understood why it's impolite to discuss our mother in the middle of a game.


As an adult I know there was some anxiety on my mother's part as she watched her "Pookie"--her nickname for me which she still calls me today--set off into the big, bad world. Even far away and with my sisters to give her plenty to focus on, my mom was there for me. This was never more true than when I went through my divorce.

Seeing my hurt, she told me I should come home where she listened to me helping me realize that I didn't need to carry the blame all alone. What's more amazing to me about her (and dad's) support through that is the fact I had shut them out of my life as I had been led to believe they were to blame for the troubles in my marriage. She never held it against me. She hated seeing her son so bruised.


Today she is a wonderful Grandmother to my sons and stepdaughters, as well as five other grandchildren. Despite living far away from all them, she still stays involved in their lives. It would be easy for her to get down and guilt us about the distance. However she doesn't, and when we visit, she delights in each of them.

It's reassuring to know mom loves dad and he loves her back. When I talk to her she chuckles at dad's quirks, and then gushes about how appreciated she feels. When I talk to dad, he always reminds me how lucky I am to have the mother I do and how lucky he is to have her as a wife. With me and my sisters gone, Mom has taken on some new interests outside of those she once had. It's hard imagining her sitting in a fishing boat and casting a line, but she loves going whenever she gets the opportunity.


Along with fishing, she seems to have found some joy "putting some caps" in a few pesky squirrels and chipmunks reeking havoc in the backyard bird feeder. I didn't realize how into this she was until I spent a Christmas with her and dad a few years ago and witnessed her delight in receiving a handgun.

"This'll be allot easier to handle than trying to fire that rifle out the kitchen window," she said shifting her grip on the handle and changing up her aiming stances. "Hey, I'm ambidextrous!" as she switched it to her her right hand. It was hilarious enough watching Annie Oakley in action, but the fact that she had just split a bottle of blackberry current wine with dad at 11am while Johnny Cash strummed in the background just made it all the more unbearable to suppress my laughter.

I suppose, all of these little stories sound rather plain, and to a certain extent, I'd agree, but there's nothing wrong with having an "average" mom. Average moms make sure you have clean clothes that match when you walk out the door, and ferry you all over the countryside for your little events, as well as disposing of the occasional radioactively enhanced booger. Average moms think of you before they think of themselves and they tell you how they pray for you everyday. In fact when I think about what it would be like to have a "un-average" mom like say, Angelina Jolie or Britney Spears I actually have to wonder what it's like for those kids because with an average mom, there's nothing average about the way they love you.


I love you Mom.

Your son,
"Pookie"

This video was something created a while back for Valentine's Day, but it's still a testament to the wonderful family my Mother created.


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One Smart Cookie

When I posted my satirical (and maybe sanctimonious) daddy blog commentary about Pizzazz, in the back of my mind I had already planned a follow up post to help clarify a few points that may have been misconstrued. Do I think product reviews are bad? No. Do I think running ads or making money from parent blogging is bad? Not necessarily. In fact, over the past month, I’ve been gathering advice from a host of respected mom and dad bloggers as the first step in starting to treat my own site as a professional endeavor. The concern for me in doing this, however, is that I’ve also expressed some finite rules, chief of which being to always provide quality content that doesn’t alienate readers, and I don’t want to come off as a hypocrite.

Near as I can tell, people return to Clark Kent’s Lunchbox for …well, I don’t know why they do, but I’m sure it’s not for an extensive rundown on titanium, bulletproof infant seats produced by the strategic minds at Combat Kids International, makers of fine, military-grade baby products and distributors of state-of-the-art weaponry around the globe. Yet, if I’m talking about being in the business of blogging, that means working with profit-minded companies. This then begs the question of how. How do I as a “professional” blogger/writer form relationships with brands without sacrificing my own "product" or becoming a Pizzazz sellout?

This past week, after Blog Nosh Magazine approached me about a commissioned (yes, paid) opportunity to participate in their The Heart and Art of Parenthood blog carnival which involved a major brand, I found my answer. The thing is, this answer can’t simply be laid out in the form of a few bullet points—it has to be told, which is why I’m inviting you to Blog Nosh Magazine for a remarkable story about a woman who was one smart cookie. And in today’s economy, I think many of us will be able to relate.


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The Reading Parent

Last week I was “The Reading Parent” for my stepdaughter Avery’s first grade class. One would think that such an official sounding title would bring with it the instantaneous respect among school children that it deserves. Like “President” or “Pharaoh” the mere utterance of my position, temporary though it may be, should’ve commanded an immediate silence from a room full of rambunctious six and seven year-olds.

“Boys and girls, The Reading Parent …of the United States!” I imagined the teacher announcing formally prior to my entering the classroom. Not so. This was my third term as The Reading Parent, and to date, Avery’s teacher has done little more than smile and let me know that they were just finishing up their art projects.

“Look class; it’s The Reading Parent,” she then will say. At that moment the glue-smeared faces of twenty pygmy-like beings snap in my direction. There’s a look in their eyes that’s an unnerving mix of both haunting and ravenous. And there I am, like a crippled fawn wearing a suit made from the same ingredients as a chicken McNugget. You can almost tell what’s going through their minds as they glanced back and forth between me and the safety scissors they’re clutching in their chubby little paws. “Do you think there’s a toy surprise inside?”

Traditionally this has always been the cue for me to take my seat at the head of the classroom. As I walk towards the undersized folding chair reserved for me, the natives mimic the cadence of my stride by pounding on their semi-circular tables while chanting “fresh meat, fresh meat” until their voices have reached a frenzied crescendo of unintelligible whooping and howling.

“You’re gonna squeal like a pig!” a shirtless, buck-toothed boy in overalls once yelled above the ruckus.

Intimidating as this may sound, I’ve learned to just ignore it. They can smell fear—drives ‘em wild. Even the slightest quiver in your voice while recounting the exploits of Little Red Riding Hood and they will go all Big Bad Wolf on you in a Hans Christian Anderson second. You can still see the incisor marks one unstable kid left in my shin after I made that mistake.

At the time, the teacher lifted her head from the People magazine she’d been nosing through. “He missed snack-time today,” she offered casually before then returning to her exposé on Kristy Allie’s rumored guest appearance on an upcoming episode of Survivor. This left me alone to fend for myself, and I shook the dwarf-like cannibal from my leg like a mailman would a dog much to the shrieking delight of his fellow tribesmen. It hadn’t occurred to me that The Reading Parent might also be a subconscious trigger word ordering him to mistake me for a gummy treat. All I can say is thank the stars for tetanus shots.

Since then, I’ve been able to suppress all outward signs of trepidation and perform with all the calmness of a lion tamer locked in a cage teaming with ferocious beasts. Sure the athletic cup and breast plate look like overkill, but the kids don’t seem to mind that my voice is muffled by a hockey mask as I read to them about King Arthur’s brave knights. These of course are just defensive measures meant to ensure my safety; the bad mitten racket on the other hand is purely for ceremonial purposes or the occasional, spontaneous pickup match. You never know where and when one will pop up.

Yet for all the uncontrollable wildness that has to be contended with, I secretly relish being The Reading Parent. It‘s one of the few thing I get to do that’s actually “parent-y.” I may not be quite as involved as some moms and dads who have orbiting satellites dedicated to keeping straight their family’s schedules and whereabouts, but that doesn’t mean being involved in my children’s activities isn’t important to me.

Were circumstances different, both my wife and I would be in attendance at every PTA meeting, throwing in our two cents as to whether or not only organic, free trade brownies should be accepted for the next bake sale. And believe me; I would love to shout out in front of God and everyone, “one thousand dollars!” to win the bid for the school’s auctioning of the exclusive “Prize Parent” parking space. Not only would it make me the best dad in the eyes of the world, but it would also ensure my stepdaughters finally received speaking parts in this year’s spring musical. Until then, however, I’ll have to endure another performance with the same designer outfitted kids slur simple sentences into a microphone like drunken celebrities at an awards show. For now, The Reading Parent is all I’ve got.

That’s why when my stepdaughters’ biological father stepped in to be The Reading Parent after moving back to town a month ago, I felt as if I had been replaced overnight in a quiet bloodless coup. The next morning prior to his taking over the title, Avery practically danced for joy in the streets as she picked out books for him to read.

“Do you think he’ll like this one?” She asked holding up an I Spy book three inches away from my face.

“Uh, probably,” I said, not really having a clue as I helped her out. “How about this one? It’s has foods that start with letters of the alphabet. Or this one, where everyone’s trying to catch that smartass pancake?”

Avery didn’t even look up from the bookcase she was rifling through. “Nooo. Those ones are for babies.”

True, they were. But it was hard for me not to imagine her dad slathered in butter and maple syrup as he stood in front of a bunch of vicious carnivorous. For the record, I have nothing against the girls’ father. He’s a likable fellow, and he loves his daughters. What’s more, the girls need their dad. So, that he wants to be more active in their day-to-day lives is a good thing, and for me to disparage that would only be petty and cruel.

Still, I hated the idea of relinquishing my title as The Reading Parent. The thought forced me to realize there would be other functions I needed to surrender as well, which made it hard for me to escape the notion that for the past several years, I had only been a stop-gap dad—a temp the agency sent over to sit behind the desk and the man the phone.

“Hello, Reading Parent’s office… No, I’m sorry. He’s out for the moment, but I’ll be filling in for a while. …Back? I’m not sure. Possibly next week maybe, but in the meantime I can help with your issue.”

Later that day, Avery beamed as she recalled the events of her dad’s performance as The Reading Parent, and despite my subtle but persistent line of questioning, it sounded as if none of the pint-sized Aborigines gnawed into any of his limbs either.

“Everyone liked his stories,” she added, her sole complaint being that time ran out before he could finish more than three of the twenty-some books she had lugged to school.

You knew this day might come. Mentally I began removing some of my possessions from The Reading Parent’s office. An unsure feeling took hold of me as I tried to redefine my duties as a stepfather, and I wondered if the agency would call me again.

This past week they did. Avery’s father was out of town, and she needed me to fill in. It was a last-minute deal that threw off my schedule, but I didn’t mind. Not really. I would be The Reading Parent again, if only for a few hours. Pulling into the school, I parked the minivan where I always do, in the Prized Parent space. It only ever gets used during festivals and musicals. Other than that, the spot’s always open for me.

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