Monday, June 21, 2010

(Un)Happy Father's Day

It’s uncanny. I posted something just days ago about the parents we saw last weekend that couldn’t control their kids, and then this weekend I ran into their exact opposite. To be clear, when I said control your kids I just meant keep them from running amok. I didn’t mean verbally analyze every move they make with a critical tone.

Mary and I are sitting in Outback Steakhouse Saturday evening. The hostess seats a family at the table next to us. It’s a mom, dad, and four boys, the youngest about 9, the oldest about 13. Before they even get their menus open, Dad turns to the oldest boy and says, “Are we going to have a problem in here, or are you going to be able to keep your attitude in check?” The boy mumbles something, and Dad continues, “Well, you need to tell your face and your body that you don’t have an attitude problem, because your body language is projecting as if you do. You’re all hunched over. Sit up straight like a man, Josh. Make eye contact with the people around you. How many times have I told you how important eye contact is?” The boy engages the other members of the table, and Dad seems satisfied for a moment.

Then he begins to watch the other three boys across the table, who are playing the games on the disposable placemats. The boys are having fun and behaving themselves, but he can’t help himself. “Connor, are you watching what you’re doing? You put your X in the corner. That means Steven can put his O here and by the time you get one row started, he’ll have two rows started, which means he’ll win.” Then to the other boy, “Tyler, what are you playing down there? Ah, the maze. Let’s see how you’re doing. Hmmm. You see this section right here? It doesn’t go anywhere. Did you follow it first before you drew your line? You didn’t, did you? That’s why you’re going to get stuck in this spot here. This is what I mean when I say ‘think ahead’.”

At this point Mary and I are staring, wide-eyed, at each other over our drinks. It’s a look that says, “Oh. My. God.” I lower my drink and mouth the words
control much? and Mary giggles. This guy is the antithesis of the dad from the weekend before. I can’t even imagine this dad being affectionate, what with his rigid demeanor and clipped speech, much less letting a kid crawl on him.

The waitress arrives to take their drink orders. Dad orders a draft beer and gives specific directions on how he wants the head. They also order a Bloomin’ Onion under Dad’s direction. When it arrives, Dad makes sure that everyone has some. Whether they want it or not. The youngest boy agrees to try it, but he doesn’t want the dipping sauce. Dad responds, “Either you take some sauce or you don’t get any at all.” The boy is fine with that, as he didn’t want any to begin with. But Dad ends up forcing the sauce on him anyway.

As they decide on entrees, on of the boys mentions that he wants a steak. Dad says, “No, you’ll order from the kids’ menu.” Mom speaks for the first time of the evening and mentions quietly that it might be all right if the boy wanted a steak. Dad snaps back at her, “Either he orders off of the kids’ menu or he doesn’t order. That’s it. End of discussion.” Mom lowers her head and stares at the table.

I’m beginning to get a more accurate picture of this guy. I can imagine him requiring Mom to arrange the canned goods in their pantry with three-quarters of an inch between cans or making sure that the towels on the towel rod are even and straight like the freaky husband in Sleeping with the Enemy. He wants to make sure everyone knows that he is the one in control. That he and he alone makes the decisions for this family.

As the boys order (from the kids menu), he badgers them while they choose condiments. “Tyler, do you want ketchup and mustard? Then tell her what you want. She has other tables to take care of. Josh, speak up, she can’t hear you when you mumble. And if I have to tell you again to make eye contact...” Then he instructs the waitress about the condiments they order for their burgers. “Ma’am, what’s your name? Shelley? Shelley, go easy on the mustard and ketchup, ok? Otherwise they’ll make a mess.” Then he cautions Shelley about his baked potato. “Shelley? On my potato, make sure it’s baked really well. The last time it was a little firm in the middle. Oh, and you can put butter and chives on it, but bring the sour cream on the side.”

As I sign our check and Mary and I get up to leave, he’s still going at it with the boys. “Connor, can you tell me why your elbows are on the table? You know we don’t put our elbows on the table. Tyler, your napkin goes in your lap. Josh, if I have to tell you again to sit up straight, we’re going to have a problem. Steven, stop playing with your straw wrapper.” The last thing I hear him say as we round the corner is, “You’re making it very hard for me to enjoy my Father’s Day dinner.”

What a jackass.