Dad Talk: The Shea Serrano Father’s Day Mailbag

One day in 2005, I was driving home from work. At the time, I was employed at a construction company in Houston. It wasn’t a job I loved, but it was a job that I liked because I almost always went home smelling like either sawdust or paint, which was a thing that I always considered manly.

So I was driving home from work and my car sputtered out on me right as I was exiting the freeway. It just died. It wouldn’t start. It wouldn’t crank. It wouldn’t do anything except piss me off. So I got out, pushed it a few feet to the shoulder, and then called a tow truck. When I got home, I fiddled with the insides of it for a bit (this was all for show — after 33 years of being alive, the only thing I know about fixing cars is that I should not try it), determined it to be above my head, and called my dad.

My dad grew up in a mechanic’s shop. That’s not a metaphor or a euphemism or anything like that. His father owned the shop and their home was located on the lot. (My dad thinks it’s funny to say that he was pulled out of his mother with an engine hoist. Truth be told, I think it’s kind of funny, too.) He didn’t graduate from high school, but he can fix anything with an engine: cars, washing machines, space shuttles, whatever. So I called him and he walked me through the things it might be. After several minutes, he decided talking to me was pointless. “I’ll come up there tomorrow after work.”

Now, let me clarify: “Up there” was no small measure. At that moment, he was 215 miles away. That’s a little more than a three-hour drive, which he was going to do after driving a city bus for 10 hours, which is the job he has had for the past 30 years. And so the next day he drove his bus for 10 hours, got off work, then drove the more than three hours to get to Houston to fix my car. He showed up, said hello, gave me a hug, and then walked out to the car. He told me to try to start it. I tried to start it. It didn’t do anything. He told me to open the hood. I opened the hood. He looked in there, jiggled some stuff, scrunched up his face, and then looked at me. I looked at him. He reached into a toolbox he’d brought with him, pulled out a wrench, then climbed under the car. I heard three quick clanks. Then he got up, looked at me, blinked a few times, put the wrench back, closed the toolbox, closed the hood, and started to walk back toward the house.

“What’s up?” I asked. “You didn’t bring the right tools?”

“We’re done,” he said.

“Huh?”

“We’re done.”

“Well, so what’s wrong with it?”

He didn’t even stop to look at me.

“It’s out of gas, son.”

And that was that. We went and got some gas and put it in and it started right up. I bought him a burger. He ate it. Then he left. And he never mentioned it again. He hasn’t mentioned it once in the nine years since it happened. He drove 430 miles round-trip to tell me that my car needed gas and it wasn’t even a thing to him.

I have three sons now: twin 7-year-olds and a 20-month-old. I want to be a dad to them like he is to me.

I’m realizing as I type this sentence right here that maybe he’s the one who should be answering all of these parenting questions for this Father’s Day mailbag instead of me.

Dang.

Sorry. 

Q: So I’m eating at Chili’s with my wife and 5-month-old. My baby is wearing a Nike onesie, Nike vest and Nike sweat pants, basically looking boss. Suddenly, the table fills with the smell of human feces. I get handed a baby and a bag. I navigate the plastic baby changing table only to find that my daughter’s poop has exploded out of the diaper and up the back of her onesie. I am now forced to make a decision. My brain starts playing DeNiro in Heat: “Don’t let yourself get attached to anything you are not willing to walk out on in 30 seconds flat if you feel the heat around the corner.” I ditch the onesie in the trash, clean up the rest of the damage and return to the restaurant with my child in vest and sweatpants only. My wife couldn’t believe I threw out the onesie. So my question is, how much poop is too much? What is the acceptable time to cut your losses and move on?
—Robert Burk, Hamilton, OH

Wow. What a start.

Um, babies are so gross, man. One time one of the twins pooped in his crib and then took a bite out of it. He bit it like it was Snickers. He bit it like he KNEW 100 percent that it was delicious. I was like, “Nah. Nope. This ain’t for me. You’re done. I gotta throw you away now, kid. It was nice knowing you.”

Poop hazards are situational. If you’re out, you just throw away whatever it is that was pooped on. If you’re home, pick up the baby with your mouth by the scruff of his or her neck like a lion does, go outside, set her down, then just spray her with the hose until all poop is gone. Make sure the hose is on a mist setting — she’s a baby, not a house fire.*

*Please do not spray your baby with a hose. That’s a joke.**

**I’m a little sad that I even have to clarify this, but that’s the Internet.

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Q: At what age can you start making your son dance? And what dance do you start with?  Nae Nae?  Southside?  Dougie? The Terio (ohhh kill ‘em)? I’d imagine you have to start with the Terio and make your way up to the Nae Nae because it takes more coordination, right? Also, if you have twins when can they do the Kid ‘n Play dance? 7?

—Dave, Chicago

This is an important question. The boys were 5 when I taught them their first dance. It was Ray Lewis’s pregame dance. I taught it to them so they could do it at their soccer games, which was probably the best decision of my life. Like, they were doing that shit during the games. It was beautiful. Have you ever seen a 5-year-old celebrate an own goal by doing the Ray Lewis dance? It’s the best thing. So start with that one. After that, hit all the ones you mentioned in whatever order you want, because if he can do one, he can do them all. And if your kid is advanced, also teach him the following: the dance Usher does in the “My Way” video; the dance routine that ‘N Sync did at the 2000 MTV VMAs; that “grind on the floor” dance that Ginuwine used to always do (probably wait until he’s 30 for that one); and Turbo’s broom scene from Electric Boogaloo 2.

Then you sit back and watch your son become president of the United States, because you got a winner on your hands, Dave.

Q: I’m in college right now, but hope to have a family in the future. What are some things that completely caught you off-guard about being a father, and what are some things that you really worried about going in that ended up being irrelevant? Practically, what do you suggest someone my age do and not do to prepare? I don’t want to waste my time or energy worrying about dumb stuff because I’m so young and dumb.
—David G., NJ

The thing that I was most caught off-guard by: My wiener now exists in a perpetual state of danger. Kids just walk up and punch you in it for no real reason. I don’t know what TF they do it for, I just know that they do. It’s a compulsion or something. I really had no idea being a dad was so treacherous wiener-wise.

The thing that I worried about the most that ended up being irrelevant: That I was going to be a bad dad. That’s irrelevant because EVERYONE is a bad dad. It doesn’t matter how hard you try. You’re just the worst. It’s in you. We were at one of the boys’ basketball games once and they were both just atrocious. I was steaming mad watching them. It was like what I imagine it’s like to be Mario Chalmers’s parents right now. And so after the game was over, they wandered over to their team’s huddle, did their little cheer, then broke off to get their postgame snacks. And I snatched them up like, “No! No! You don’t get a snack! You don’t deserve one after that game! Let’s go!” This is in front of everyone, mind you. Like, the whole gym is watching this happen. The boys, they’ve got tears in their eyes watching the other kids eat Fruit Roll-Ups or whatever as they toddle behind me out of the gym. We get in the car, and I’m still fussing at them. “I can’t believe you played like that! Who taught you that?! I didn’t teach you that!” We get out of the car, walk inside, I sit them on the couch next to each other and go at it again. “You guys are the ones that told me you wanted to play basketball! Look at me! If you play like that again, I’m taking you out of sports! Do you hear me?!” I was laying into them, man.

They were 4 years old.

Poor little dudes. I realized about an hour later how just horribly wrong I was. I just tried to make sure I never did it again.

But so that’s the thing: You’re a bad dad. It is what it is. You just gotta try and not be the worst dad, I guess.

Q: I have a problem with my nephew. The kid is a walking ball of ADHD and has endless amounts of energy. So much energy that sometimes he lets out in the form of a surprise nut shot in the middle of a mall Foot Locker like my brother had to deal with the other day. We’ve tried everything. How can we get him to stop?

—The__Mendozer

(Boom. See, David? Told you. Kids punch wieners.)

You don’t stop kids. They do shit. That’s the whole thing of being a kid. Soon enough they’ll be adults and working on spreadsheets and quarterly reports or whatever. Let that boy glow.

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Q: I don’t have any kids of my own and I’m mostly ok with being the cool uncle type. But then … how can I not feel so sad on Father’s Day when no one pays attention to me?

—Barry P.

Bro, nobody paying attention to you is the whole point of Father’s Day. You don’t spend Father’s Day with your kids, you spend Father’s Day with yourself. Dads spend, like, 60 percent of their energy trying to avoid taking care of their kids. One time I came home from work, gave my wife and kids a hug, then just went into the bathroom and sat there for five hours until she’d put them all to sleep because sitting in a bathroom for five hours is better than helping a first grader count beans for his homework or read a book about a turtle that learns a valuable lesson or whatever to your baby. Father’s Day is one of two days of the year when you have absolute impunity to ignore your family (the other is your birthday). If nobody’s paying attention to you on Father’s Day, then to you I say congratulations. You’ve already figured it all out.

Q: When introducing my kids to sports, I let them slide on rules and technique so they don’t get discouraged early. When is the right time to switch it up and start swatting their garbage out of here?

—Tony

One of the twins, he’s an athletic marvel. He’s just always been very coordinated. He had a six-pack by the time he was 3. That’s not even a joke. It’s unreal. They did this Field Day at their school where they run all these races and whatnot and, despite being about a year younger than all the other kids in his class, he just destroyed everyone. He was like a tiny Usain Bolt out there. I thought I had me an NFL running back. But the problem is, his spine is made of Styrofoam. He’s not interested in overcoming any sort of adversity. If we play basketball and I make two shots in a row he’s like, “Man, I don’t need this shit,” and then he goes and sits on the stairs and cries.

The other one, he’s not winning any Olympic medals. He’s slow and he falls a lot and he never seems to know what his legs want to do. But he has a nuclear reactor in his chest. If we play basketball and I make two shots on him, he turns into a goddamn wolverine. He will climb all the way inside your body and then explode it like Neo did in The Matrix if you even come close to beating him in anything. We were playing one-on-one several weeks ago and I think I went up by maybe two or three points and he was getting REAL mad. I tell him, “I’m about to hit this jumper and it’s game over, son. Watch me shine.” And before he checks the ball to me, he looks at me with solid black eyes like a great white shark. And he says, “You’re not gonna win, Daddy. I’m gonna get the ball and score and win and then I’m gonna laugh at you.”

AND THEN I’M GOING TO LAUGH AT YOU.

That’s the gulliest thing of all, man. He really had me feeling like, Man, I can’t let this kid laugh at me. I was totally shook. I don’t have to juke the stats for him. He’s a tyrant. He can take care of himself.

So what I’m saying is: It’s kid-specific.

Q: How much should I embellish my basketball career to my kid?

What do I do if my kid starts liking whatever team is good, even if said team contains someone in the Dwyane Wade/Ray Allen/Deron Williams hate-spectrum? 

When I start forcing my kid into basketball, what skill should I focus on? I’m leaning toward sick handle skills. I’m a tall dude with no handle, but there’s definitely nothing more terrifying than a tall dude with a handle. Having said that, I could probably be convinced to just teach my kid to splash J’s and mean mug. 

—Stefan Kling

Let’s go in order:

  1. Re: embellishing your basketball career: You should embellish it as much as you can whenever you can. My boys have had a picture in their room of Manu Ginobili dunking that they’ve thought was me for, like, the last three years. Every time we go to a basketball court I have to come up with excuses why I can’t dunk for them that particular day. I’m starting to run thin. This last time I was like, “Well, I can’t dunk right now because I think that guy over there wants to kidnap you and if I dunk he might grab you while I’m flying through the air.”
  2. Re: what do you do if your kid likes Dwyane Wade: Gross. You leave that kid at a truck stop is what you do.
  3. Re: what basketball skill should you teach your kid first: Trash-talking. A kid that’s good at trash-talking is a kid that’s good at life.

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Q: I got two girls, what the hell?

—Corey Rial

Dogg, that’s dope. I only ever wanted one girl and we ended up with three boys. I will always remember how profoundly disappointed I was when the doctor told us that we were having another boy. She was this super serious Russian specialist doctor (my wife had hella pregnancy complications). We were in the room and she was doing a sonogram on my wife. She looks up and asks, “Do you want to know the sex?” I was like, “Yeah.” And then she very matter-of-factly stopped what she was doing, looked right through my eyeballs, and said in a very thick Russian accent, “It has a penis.” IT HAS A PENIS. I will remember that sentence for the rest of my life. I felt the same way Rocky looked like he felt when Drago told him, “If he dies, he dies.”

Q: My wife calls my 3-month-old daughter’s doll “Molly.” Will this impact her in the future in a positive or negative way (my daughter)? Also, what does this say about my wife? 

—Alim V.

You mean because “Molly” is a term used to refer to drugs? Nah. If she starts calling the doll “Crack Cocaine,” then maybe. Right now, though, you’re good.

When do you get Dad Strength?

—Steve W.

You get Dad Strength immediately, which is weird because it usually takes about nine or ten months before you actually feel like you’re the father of the baby living at your house. (Mostly it just feels like you live with a very tiny, very inconsiderate roommate.) Here’s the thing you need to know about Dad Strength, though: It isn’t infinite. It works more like Turbo on NBA Jam. You get it for a bit, and then it runs out and you have to wait for it to replenish. When I realized my Dad Strength had come in, I went outside and tried to pick up a car. I didn’t have any more Dad Strength for two weeks.

Q: My dad never let me score and padded his block stats and basically made me cry. Now he is old and can’t jump, and while wily, just can’t keep up with me. And I go for the jugular as an act of revenge. Sometimes I just dribble around for three minutes to see him have trouble breathing.

I was going to do the same to my kids, but now I’m scared they’ll get their revenge on me. Is this just some circle of life shit?

—Elliot B.

You can’t run from this, Elliot. You take out your dad. Your sons take you out. Theirs get them. It’s been this way for millions of years.

I still remember the first time I beat my dad in basketball. I was just in high school. He’d dominated me for a good 10 years. He was unstoppable. He was like the goddamn ’86 Celtics. But so when I finally beat him, I was 14 years old. We were out there playing, I grabbed a rebound, dribbled out to the top of the key, began a crossover that he knew was about to come, but then midway through it I shifted the ball and dropped it through his legs. I ran around him, gathered the ball, then laid it up. He walked off the court. We never spoke again. It’s been 18 years. I’m excited for that day to come with each of my sons.

Q: Hi, I am 22 and I hate kids. I thought it would change when I graduated from college and joined the real world. Well, here we are a year later and nope. Convince me I’m wrong for fearing my own offspring before they even exist.
—Andy

I wish I could, Andy. But your instincts are right. Being a parent is the pits. People pretend that it isn’t because there are moments where you think your kids are cool or funny because they’ll occasionally do cool or funny stuff. But it’s not fun. Here’s how you know, and this will be the most honest, most insightful commentary on parenting that anyone will ever give you in your whole life:

When you are not a parent, you dream of all kinds of cool shit. You dream about being a race car driver or in the NBA or an astronaut or the president or traveling the world and on and on and on. It’s amazing. The whole entire world is yours for the exploring. All of this glorious information and adventure is out there just waiting for you. And do you know what you dream of when you’re a parent? One thing: not having kids. That’s it. That’s all. You don’t want to be gone forever; just, like, maybe a few hours. That’s all you dream of. Because being a parent is terrible.

Except when it’s perfect.

Filed Under: Fathers Day

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Shea Serrano is a staff writer for Grantland. He recently published his first book, Bun B’s Rap Coloring and Activity Book.

Archive @ SheaSerrano