Day 327: I Guess I Blame Thomas Jefferson

They say it’s possible for any given person to contain a molecule that used to be inside Thomas Jefferson. You can insert any famous person really; or any regular person for that matter. As I understand it, when a person dies, or coughs, or throws up, or pees, or any other action that frees life’s building blocks from their body, molecules are simply passed on to other living things, and I guess dead things too (I think they also have molecules.)

Listen, I don’t know what I’m talking about. I’m trying to sound smart but instead come off like a 9 year old after a Bill Nye binge. “DID YOU KNOW RACCOONS ARE NOCTURNAL?!” Yes, yes I did, Max.

Last night my 4 year old appeared in front of me with a bottle of Cascade dishwasher detergent and said, “Daddy, I can’t open this.” “Well it’s a good thing because little boys aren’t supposed to run the dishwasher!” I responded in a very annoyed tone (according to my wife). I was on dad autopilot, the molecules of millions of other fathers having combined to program my brain for numerous default reactions to behaviors.

I could say I sounded like my dad but the truth is I sounded like every dad ever. Maybe even a little like Thomas Jefferson. Granted, the dishwashers in those days were actual people so his son may have said, “I can’t get Sally to do the dishes,” to which daddy Jefferson responded, “That’s good because little boys don’t tell their mothers what to do,” or something like that. Actually, I bet Thomas Jefferson never spoke to his children. Who knows. I’m not very good with history.

Here’s what my wife suggested I should have said instead: “Were you going to try to run the dishwasher? It’s pretty cool, right? I really appreciate that you want to help clean up, but the dishwashing detergent is not safe for you to handle and the dishwasher should only be operated by adults. Next time you want to use it, tell us and we can help you.”

That’s modern parenting right there. A perfect execution of how the books and blogs tell us to raise happy, confident, curious kids. Mothers have always been nurturing; it’s in their DNA. Women’s bodies and brains change after they have a child. Nothing of the sort happens to men. We’re exactly the same person chemically, only now we have children. It’s no wonder new dads look so confused next to the oddly and almost inappropriately confident mother of their child.

Only in the last 30 years have fathers become even remotely decent. Before 1970 they went to work, came home, played with the kids for 15 minutes, told their son that blue was the best color and their daughter that pink was actually best. Then they mindlessly wandered out to the garage to cry and tinker with their car while the Mrs made a roast and slyly washed her diaphragm in preparation for a night of dutiful, boring, married sex. Of course there were exceptions and I’m sure your father was one of them.

We all know a lot more is expected of dads these days and rightly so. We should split the parental duties; it’s an egalitarian world. The difficult part is to undo the influence of all those ancient dad molecules floating around so we can also be as nurturing emotionally to our children. I’m not sure how to do that, but a blood transfusion might be a good start.

I'm a contributing writer to Parents Magazine, GQ, Psychology Today and some others. My book, "This is Ridiculous. This is Amazing: Parenthood in 71 Lists" is available here Look for two more books in 2015: "Must. Push. Buttons (Bloomsbury Kids), and an as-of-yet untitled memoir I’ve appeared on Comedy Central’s “Live at Gotham” and “Nick Mom’s Night Out." I live in New Jersey with my wife and two sons and enjoy making them laugh more than anyone else.

15 comments On Day 327: I Guess I Blame Thomas Jefferson

  • Hmm. Do you do the dishes in the house? I don't know if it's a female thing as much as a "OMG, the kid wants to help with the dishes, I must encourage this desire to make my life easier". My 2 year old throws away trash for us, including his baby brother's diapers. I am hoping this will turn into a habit of cleaning his own room someday (could I possibly be so lucky?). Apparently his genes mutated and he may not be the slob that his parents are. I will walk on eggshells as much as necessary to keep nurture from messing with nature on this one.

    • My 19 month old must must must throw away his own diaper which will hopefully come in handy when his brother is born in Feb. Daddy gets freaked out "dont let him take that to trash what if poop gets all over the place?" A moms (my) response "if poop gets all over the place ill teach him how to clean it up but considering he gas been doing this since he was able to walk with no help I think we are all set on poop escaping from diaper" its awesome my son slade loves to clean. Dad thinks we should lock trash up but he isn't around as much S I am to witness our 19 month old pick up little things an put them in trash even out side he will try to pick things up an put in trash can if he spots one. I say encourage your kids to do things like cleaning an give them lied if praise when the attempt even if its something an adult should be doing. I always tell slade "thanks little man for helping mommy but I have to do rest" for instance dishwasher he beings me the detergent an I pour it in. He even helps me by holding the dust pan. Your child is never to young to start learning. Even if its just by you saying "buddy this is something adults need to handle but you can watch an learn what I do a maybe next time it needs to be done you can help" anyway I've gone on enough about this just a great subject

      • Ok so my phone did its auto spell. Give your kids lots of praise when they help out or even when they try. I always give big big smile an say great job buddy

  • Apparently, our testosterone levels plummet when we have kids. Otherwise we'd never agree to buy a family minivan and every family would own his and her (pink and blue?) Hummers instead.

  • Where can I get more of that fois gra stuff?

  • Ah, but in our house it's the opposite.

    Kid: "Mommy, I want to hold the dishwasher soap packet!"

    Me: "OK, but only for a few second while I finish loading the wine glasses."

    Kid: "It's squishy!"

    Me: "I know!"

    Husband: "Let's talk about your feelings. Are you feeling happy right now? Sad? Angry? Sometimes Daddy gets happy/sad/angry, too. It's OK to feel those things."

    Maybe all those years of babysitting and camp counseling have beaten down my nurturing DNA and turned me into a lazy, careless parent, whereas my husband – who never once babysat and never camp counseled – still has all of his intact.

  • Jason..I would have said the same F-N thing to my son if he brought me the dishwashing liquid…

    Also – Your wife sounds like the mom I would like to be…what medications is she currently taking that keeps her so calm? Valium? Vicodin? I need some!

    • I find that drinking a LOT helps. :)

      • Oh, I want to be your friend. I love to drink. My kids do the most insane things and it's a wonder I'm not an alcoholic at the end of the day. I swear.

      • Me too! However…I am currelty pregnant and all my fav vices are put on hold for the next 31 weeks…if my son and husband don't kill me first! LOL

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