Fathers know keys, tires, knots, fires and value of a diaper

SATURDAY'S HERO

June 11, 1994|By ROB KASPER

Early on a Sunday morning, I was out in the back yard painting a table when I heard a baby cry. It was a neighbor's baby, but when I heard his early morning call, it reminded me of Sunday mornings several years ago when my kid was doing the wailing and I was the dad on duty.

While I felt sympathy for the parents of the crier, I also felt grateful that my days as the father of a newborn were now long gone. One of the kids that used to rouse me at dawn is now a teen-ager. That means he stays up until midnight and sleeps until mid-morning. The other is now 9, old enough to know that if you get up on Sunday morning while your parents are still sleeping, you quietly watch television.

I continued painting the table and. inspired either by the paint fumes, or the impending arrival of Father's Day, I compiled a partial list of dad duties, of what it means to be father.

Here are some job descriptions I came up with:

* Custodian of the keys. Dads take care of keys, removing broken keys from locks with tweezers and hat pins, dispensing keys to responsible family members. The other day, I presented a set of house keys to the 9-year-old and he puffed up with pride. He had joined the ranks of the key carriers. For the rest of the day he practiced his new trade, locking and unlocking doors every time anyone left the house.

* Inflater of tires. Dads eye tires, whether they are bicycle tires or car tires. It is not an easy job. I can testify that at times the job of keeping air in the tires puts a dad in conflict with family members who specialize in deflation, also called driving over curbs.

* Tie-er of knots. Most dads start by tying their kids' shoes. Years ago I got a plaintive phone call at the office: "Dad, my shoe is untied." Now I am called upon to tie neckties, not shoes. Someday I'll be fired. Already the 13-year-old bristles when I try to straighten his school tie. He ties his own, and soon, no doubt, his brother will follow.

* Lighter of fires. Dads burn things. I ignite the barbecue and, on rare occasions, the fireplace. Lately I have felt the heat of competition for the post of family fire starter. As I sit staring at the embers, my youngest son sits next to me.

* Coach with an "insight." Dads don't merely coach their kids, they give them extraordinary advice. I, for instance, have a fixation with the elbow. When my sons shoot a basketball I tell them "point your elbow at the basket." When they pitch a baseball I tell them to "get your elbow above your shoulder."

* Supplier of socks. Dads clothe the family. It used to be that when one of my socks was missing, I could find it in the laundry room. Now I am likely to find it being worn by one of my kids. Clean socks are fair game for whoever finds them first. My extra large T-shirts are also endangered. I have given up hiding them, instead I barter for them, giving a few to the kids, keeping a few for me.

* Beast of burden. Dads carry heavy things. I am the one who carries the 5,000-pound suitcase on family trips. I am refrigerator mover, the sofa lifter, the manipulator of the washing machine. But thanks to Mother Nature, I am getting help. The kid I used to carry on my shoulders, is developing shoulders of his own. The other day he helped me put the air conditioner in a bedroom window, and the job went much smoother than in previous years when my wife helped.

* Educator of would-be drivers. Dads teach their kids about cars. I answer questions about the workings of the car. What does the clutch do? What does the rpm needle tell you? How do you know when to pass another car? When we visit a tiny Eastern Shore town I have been known to let a kid sit on my lap, and steer a slow moving car around an otherwise empty parking lot.

By the time I had finished painting the table the crying baby had long since settled down. I reached for a rag to wipe paint off my arms. I looked carefully at the paint rag. It was a diaper, a leftover from the years when Wednesday was diaper day. That was the day I used to carry a heavy tub of soiled diapers up to the vestibule. There the dirty diapers were picked up by a diaper service and replaced with a stack of freshly laundered ones.

Diaper day used to be a big day at our house. As I wiped away paint with the "recycled" diaper, I knew what I might ask for Father's Day. Some new diapers. They are the best car-washing rags I ever found.

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