I remember my father as a guy in his late twenties — younger than I am now — wearing plaid pants, dollar store slippers, and a bright blue t-shirt that read "Master of Disaster" in fuzzy iron-on letters. A soggy cigar bounced in his mouth as he spoke, his eyes fixed on what he was doing. It was early in the morning, and we had already been up for hours, fishing for our breakfast in some Canadian lake. Standing in the grass, he was showing me how to gut a perch. I've got to tell you, there's nothing quite like the experience of sawing the head off of a still-gasping fish.
I also remember attending my first Indy Car race with my aunt. The air was so hot you could smell the asphalt. I saw Mario Andretti's car up close, stuffed myself with hot dogs and cotton candy, and then threw up all over my aunt's car as we drove home.
I remember ending my Little League career having only made a single hit; startling my sister so badly she whacked her head and had to get stitches; attending my first rock concert — with a priest — and burying three dogs, two cats, countless pet fish, and a brown rabbit named Rainbow.
Last week I was in the car with my kids when Grace piped up from the backseat. "Dad, remember when you played that funny game where you put my green coat on your head and marched up and down the hallway? That was funny."
"Yeah," I said, and the weight of what happened in that instant was suddenly overwhelming.
"Dear God," I thought. "I'm responsible for their childhood memories."
I started to do the math. "Okay," I thought. "William is only 2. Everything is pretty much flying over his head at this point, so I'm safe there. Grace is 4..." I searched for the oldest files in my mind — what I could recall from being 4. I clearly remember the boy who ate all the purple crayons — and ONLY the purple crayons — in kindergarten. I must have been 4 or 5 years old at the time, which means that Grace is in The Danger Zone: She may be able to recall what I do from here on out. I felt a mild rising panic as I proceeded to try to identify any "standout" events from the past year.
There was the night I inadvertently dropped the F-bomb in front of her, which she was thrilled to repeat. I've been known to let her paint shoulder-length "gloves" on herself, but only for formal occasions. I'm still regretting the night I laughed hysterically as she compared her poo to tortellini...because to this day she still tries to top herself each time she goes with a clever new comparison. Of course, we can't forget the Polar Express fiasco...
I was still obsessing over all of this as I put the kids to bed. Usually, my wife tucks Grace in, sings her lullabies, and asks about her favorite part of the day. But since she was stuck at a PTA meeting, I had to do it. With William in his crib, I followed Grace into her room. She got into bed and I turned out the light.
"Mom's not here," I said, "so I'll sing your lullabies tonight. What songs does mommy sing?"
"She sings that mommy one," Grace answered.
"Well, what's it called?" I asked.
"I don't know," she said. "It's just a mommy one."
I could see that I was on a dead-end street, so I changed tactics. "Well, I know 'Rainbow Connection,'" I said. "Would you like me to sing that?" She nodded, and I sang.
When I finished, she said, "Okay, that's the Daddy Lullaby."
I smiled, and asked her, "So what was your favorite part of the day?"
She said, "Your lullaby."
It ain't pulling the guts from a fish, but it's a start.