GateHouse — The thing that I love most is how the 8-year-old hands me — me! — the iPad to clear a level of “Angry Birds: Star Wars,” like that’s something that I can do better. Like because I am a Grown Person with my own retirement account, flood insurance and cholesterol medicine (ha! just kidding about the retirement account, and possibly flood insurance) I possess magic Angry Birds-Flinging powers available only to graying people whose bones make weird noises when they get up in the morning.
I suppose I should be thankful for this, that at the age of near-9 my son still holds me in enough esteem to shovel me problems he finds insurmountable and I, being a dynamic and powerful father, will not hesitate to squoosh a junta of cartoon pigs who are wearing stormtrooper masks. I should also be thankful that we haven’t encountered any Insurmountable Problems that involve, say, removing a snake from someplace confined and damp, or attending to something in or around an engine block.
But most of the time, I’m just watching the kid squish birds. Actually, I’m sort of watching him, because my aging eyes cannot adequately track his fingers. All they see is hands moving, going from one spot to another without apparently visiting the space in between, like a skinny ninja who cannot remember to brush all of his teeth, and then some pigs explode. He’ll fling a bird and evaluate in mid-flight whether or not the bird’s trajectory is pleasing to his little spongebrain, and if it’s clear the bird isn’t going to splat where it’s supposed to splat he’ll have paused, canceled and restarted the level basically before I’ve realized that the iPad is on. One would think someone with this kind of preternatural grasp on physics and trajectory would be able to walk up a door marked PUSH and not pull it, yet here we are.
Besides, when an 8-year-old hands you something to do, he obviously does not wish you to do it. What he wants is for you to hold the iPad while he shouts a fiesta of instructions at you about what you should be doing, how you’re not currently doing it, why you’re so bad at this, and how baffling it is that you’re failing to follow such simple direction. Seriously, at one point he was like, “Ugh why aren’t you listening to my INSTRUCTIONS!” which led to me making a really resonant point about how that feels, like hypothetically when you have to tell someone to sit at the dinner table like an actual human, but delicious irony is wasted on third-graders.
The problem is it’s such PRESSURE to be looked at in this way, the kind of pressure I used to feel whenever someone would pass me a basketball, and by “used to” I mean this past Sunday when I was playing HORSE with my son at the playground and some fifth-grader named Ben passed me a basketball.
I also know that I’m only setting myself up for failure and further deconstruction of my status as my son’s primary male role model, because, let’s be honest, you’ve probably seen what happens when a dad attempts a video game. It’s pretty much what it’s like when a dad attempts skateboarding. Best-case scenario is he just breaks an elbow or shatters a pelvis or something; worst-case is that the sense of melancholy that the son feels seeing such horrors with his own eyes becomes so burned into his brain that he turns to something much worse than skateboarding, like the tuba.
I had a Commodore 64 growing up, and I don’t want to sound too cool about it but I was a pretty big deal in the Commodore 64 clique at my junior high school. (One of my games had the ability to mimic human speech, if you can believe it.) But on sporadic occasions Dad would come in, and ask what we were playing, and ask to sit in for a spell, and God watching him try to clump around with the joysticks during a fierce contest of “Summer Games” or flipping over a floating orb of death in “Impossible Mission,” it was just like watching those videos where they try to teach dolphins to play basketball or something, and you’re screaming at the screen like, “No, dolphins, you’re fine just being dolphins DON’T TRY TO OVERREACH!”
Related, sort of
- ‘Soul Calibur’ didn’t make my kid an angry mess, but it helped!
- Teaching the children the ways of the World 1-1
Case in point: I once played “Halo 3” with a 10-year-old son of a friend; my only memory is using a serious-looking vehicle called a Prowler to accidentally murder all of my squadmates by driving over them. At one point I unloaded about 50 rounds into what Little Jason told me, with disconcerting patronization and scarcely a look up from his Wimpy Kid book, two boxes. At another point I spent three and a half minutes shooting up a corpse, but in my defense, that was because one time I walked by a corpse and like this weird green Yoda spider jumped out of it and started eating my leg, which is not something that you easily get over, hopeless Dad or not.