I realize now that my Dad got a rough time out of me. I'd call him "old man" to his face, and "old fart" behind his back, and that was on a good day. Dad was uncool, and there seemed nothing worse in the world to me back then. Finally, he read me the curse. "When you have kids, I hope they're just like you". He was right. Very soon, I started to recoil in panic at the other side of the curse. If the kids were just like me, then I would be just like my father.
I don't know exactly when it started. It's almost like one day I woke up and decided that lines like "when I was your age" or "back in the day" were now mandatory any time I ever said anything to the kids. Dad humor seemed to have suddenly become an easy way to give myself an inane grin while the kids rolled their eyes and raised their eyebrows. I can't understand what anyone sees in Christina Aguilera or Britney Spears, and why nobody wears pants that fit.
But I found salvation, and you can find it too. It all began when Santa Claus was up against the wall for gift ideas one year. In desperation, my wife and I decided we'd sacrifice quality time and let Santa bring the kids a TV, a VCR, and a Nintendo GameCube. They'd probably disappear to their rooms, never to be seen again.
It never happened that way at all. None of Santa's gifts made it up the staircase. Instead, the kids initiated a wild policy of kidnapping the family TV and surround sound decoder, and I enjoyed every minute of it. The best part of all was, when the kids went to bed, my wife and I had SSX Tricky all to ourselves until four'o'clock in the morning. There's nothing like going to work bleary-eyed but confident in the knowledge you can complete a Crippled Squirrel 900 Cordova. But that was several months after my salvation...
"DAD!", yelled Beth from the family room just as I was getting comfortable on the throne about to indulge in some good reading, with enough urgency to convince me that one of the three had at least lost a limb. "How do I kill this guy?"
"Well, let me see. Seeing as I've never ever played this game, I'll have to take a wild guess. He seems to have a shiny spot on his butt. Try shooting him there," and, figuring that would be answer enough, I settled into the recliner and closed my eyes, ready to play possum while I entertained myself with thoughts of Fran Drescher or some equivalent Dad fantasy.
"But DAD! He's not dying, and I've only got two and a half hearts left, and I don't know what to do, and... DAD!". I hadn't even got as far as thinking of a Victoria's Secret outfit for Ms. Drescher to wear. (Why don't these things happen while I'm in the middle of a perl regular expression?) "For crying out loud Beth, this is what, when I was a kid, we used to call a boss. This is your first boss, right? If you can't get him, you may as well hang up the controller now". Maybe I was a bit harsh. "Give it a go Bessie, do your best". Hmmm, maybe that time I was a bit patronizing.
Beth's little furry fox character died in a melodramatic display of Nintendo cut scene, and she threw down the controller in abject despair when she saw there was no escaping it. This guy needed killing, and the only way to do it was to do what daughters through the ages had always done. She launched a full-scale puppy dog eyes assault on dear old Dad. I found myself wondering if that might have worked on the dinosaur she'd been fighting. There was only one thing for it. The Nanny was just going to have to wait, while Dad saved the world. "So, what buttons do I use?" said Dad in all seriousness - and got the rolled eyes and raised eyebrows in return.
I took the controller, not the standard Nintendo one I was used to, but some generic brand specifically designed to be operated by some alien life form with hands only half an inch across. As predicted, this dinosaur needed a few shots in the hiney. Hmmm, that seemed to have annoyed him, and somehow I was in his stomach. The kids groaned in despair. Dad was going to kick the bucket, but Dads are made of sterner stuff. A few smacks to a dangly shiny thing, and I was back out of there, and Dinosaur Boy was glowing in the chest. A few more shots, and he was dead. Dad hadn't lost a single heart.
I didn't expect the kids to kiss the ground I walked on, and I knew pretty much they wanted the controller back so they could appreciate that cut scene they'd worked so hard to earn. But the precedent had been set, and every video game thereafter followed the same pattern. If the kids got to a part that wasn't over quickly enough to satisfy their short attention span or need for instant gratification, the controller got thrown to Dad. Or to Mom. They were old as dirt. They knew what it was like back in the good old days, when games were Nintendo hard and the death of a boss was an excuse for a block party. Provided the kids could tolerate the reminiscing, good ole Mom and Dad would finish off these newfangled bad guys in no time flat. The kids were happy, while the parental units began to wonder why modern video games had got so easy all of a sudden. (Later in Starfox Adventures though, there was one sequence which required one of us on the Control Stick while the other beat the crap out of the fire button, but don't tell my kids).
The completion of my salvation was not far away - all it took was a sleepover from one of the kids' friends. As I was driving this little girl home, I heard quiet voices in the back of the car in definitive Alicia Silverstone Clueless style. "Sooo, reckon I can come stay again? Your 'olds' play video games. That is sooo cool!". I grinned inanely while I drove, decided this was a moment to savor, and resisted the temptation to spike it with a bit of Dad humor.
I'm sure my kids rolled their eyes and raised their eyebrows anyway.