Being a single father my parenting skills are graded on the steepest of curves. If my kids so much as mumble "thank you," my friends' wives gush about what a terrific job I'm doing raising my kids. If I manage a relatively straight part separating my daughter's two Afro puffs the mom's at school coo over me as if I were the reincarnation of James Brown.
I wonder what everyone expects? That my kids would arrive at school pants-less, in just moldy t-shirts, enjoying a breakfast of Fritos and Red Bull?
(All right, that might have happened once, but that was years ago.)
So for years I've reveled in the praise and the pity, however, I'm starting to realize that it had gone to my head. I was starting to believe that I was the single greatest dad the world had ever known.
And then one day I really heard how I talk to my kids.
When did I become such a blowhard? With me everything has to be a lesson, either on morals, philosophy or math. Nothing just ever is. All that's missing is the pipe to thoughtfully chew on in between the sage pronouncements that I half expect my kids to carve into their bunk beds.
I've turned into Mr. Brady. Remember how no matter how specific the situation, he always turned it into some pithy, unforgettable life lesson? That's me.
The other day we were two hours into our day-long wait for Chet's passport. We were number 2841 and the electronic display was flashing 2768.
A propos of nothing I said to my third grader, "Ava, if you want to figure out how many people are ahead of us you just count up by tens till you get close. Sixty-eight, seventy-eight, eighty-eight...then eight minus...borrow the three" My calculations quickly got hopelessly tangled. Used to me by now, she barely even looked up from her latest Judy Blume book and just rolled her eyes, something at which she is becomeing a world-renowned expert.
A few hours later her little brother was on his knees, arms heavenward, wailing as if he'd just been blinded by the gods because Ava got the last vanilla cupcake and he had to settle for chocolate — which until just moments before had been his favorite.
"Life is going to be full of these little disappointments," I tried to tell my five and three-quarter-year-old. I'm a Zen Buddhist and attempted to quote him words that have helped me: "Desires are inexhaustible."
His desperate wail only grew louder.
Moments later, however, he was giggly again, painting his plate with ketchup using broccoli brushes before gobbling them.
"Ketchup on broccoli, gross!" I said.
"Don't yuck my yum," he replied, with his mouth still full.
"Don't yuck my yum"?
Turns out he'd learned that back in preschool.
And suddenly I was the one committing words of wisdom to memory.
Trey Ellis is a novelist, screenwriter, blogger and teaches at Columbia University. He's the author of the forthcoming memoir — "Father of the Year."