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The Snark Serial: An Ode to Fatherhood

by Alexandria Mansfield

“The Snark Serial” is a snark-filled take on life from one of the team’s bitterest writers. Alexandria Mansfield will offer sarcastic remarks, seething reviews and snide satire to more digest life’s bumps and hiccups – and the occasional win. She will also suggest a weekly snack pairing to munch on while reading. (Warning:  Not all snack recommendations may be edible.)

I was going to open this column with a dead dad joke, but I worried it would read a little dry.

He’s cremated though so I guess it’s all dry to him.

Great, now that we’re all warmed up look, another cremation pun for you! and ready to laugh, let’s get into it.

I push my nephew, John Lincoln Mansfield, at the park in Ocala, Fla. on May 28.

My dad died in January 2018, and every year I find a few dates to be especially difficult and memory-ridden. One of those, obviously, is Father’s Day. I knew I was going to need to write a column before Father’s Day this year, and I figured I’d do it on summer heat in Florida or ignoring people who text me. But every time I sat down to do it, the one thing on my mind was this date. Finally, I couldn’t resist it any longer and decided to lean into this Hallmark holiday.

This column is part-bad humor, part-love letter and 100% a coping mechanism.

My dad always treated me like his son, so for the purposes of this column, I’m going to be a father. And, because I don’t want children of my own, and my nephew is a fatherless fellow like me, he is going to be my son. It’s 2021 these things happen.

From my father to me to my pseudo-son, here are 10 bits of wisdom I hope to impart on my “son” through his childhood. I know he isn’t old enough to read yet but just go with me on this one. Here’s what you need to know, buddy:

No. 1

We stop only once on a road trip, regardless of who has to pee or how much farther we have to go. If you’re driving from North Central Pennsylvania to Miami, maybe don’t blow your one-and-only stop the second you get into Virginia. Yes, I could stop again. I might even have to because gas will run out eventually, but if I were you, I wouldn’t count on that. Manage your time well on road trips.

No. 2

Dad grills, and no one else can do it right. I am terrified that the propane tank will explode the moment I touch it. I have no idea where this fear came from and know that it is completely irrational, but it’s still prevalent. Regardless, I promise to assert my dadness by spending 40 hours a week barbecuing every July. This I do out of a labor of love for you, my son.

No. 3

Running in public places makes everything more fun even grocery shopping. There’s nothing to get home to. There’s no reason to rush. But you can’t beat the adrenaline-pumping that comes with jogging down the soda aisle and swerving around patrons in scooters. It’s just more exciting if you do it fast for no reason.

No. 4

Changing clothes every day after work is a must. “Get out of your street clothes.” My dad may not have been a germaphobe or he may have been, thinking about how often he used hand sanitizer in a pre-pandemic era.

Regardless, one rule of the house was to always get out of the clothes you’d worn all day and into “lounge clothes” the moment you got home. The apparel of choice? Baggy basketball shorts and any graphic T-shirt that says “Harley Davidson” or “U2” or “ASPCUF” the Pennsylvania state schools’ faculty union on it.

Over the years, I have accumulated roughly 10 of each of these shirts, so I think I’m set for a while. I can’t wait for my nephew to start buying me my obligatory “No. 1 Dad” shirts to add to the rotation though. I expect they’ll start coming after this column. That or a restraining order from my sister.

No. 5

I, the head of the table, demand everyone stays at dinner until I am done eating. I don’t care if I’ve been staring at the same meatball for 30 minutes because I’ve been too busy talking to finish off my meal. If I’m not done, you’re not done, Squirt.

So you can sit there and stare longingly at the TV in the other room and wonder about what’s on Nickelodeon all you want, but I’m going to tell you about my day and you’re going to tell me about yours until I’m satisfied that we’ve had enough bonding to get me through until I see you again tomorrow.

No. 6

Don’t you dare touch my radio station. You may be 3 years old and want to listen to “Baby Shark” or “Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed,” but I’m a classic rock kind of guy. You’re going to learn about The Boss (Bruce Springsteen) and deal with my crooning “Rosalita” from now until you’re 18, so you’d better get used to it.

I will educate you about ZZ Top, Billy Joel, Simon & Garfunkel, The Rolling Stones and every other band your grandparents listened to in their heyday. No one will ever call you uncultured in rock ‘n’ roll on my watch. You’ll also learn how to dance like no one is watching while a VHS recording of a U2 concert from the ’80s plays in the background. Lean into this because, I promise you, you’ll never feel so free again.

No. 7

Expired food isn’t really expired. Don’t be wasteful. If there’s a little bit of fuzz on the sour cream, just scoop it off and get to the layers underneath. It smells fine, right? You know expiration dates are just suggestions. They’re really nothing more than a marketing ploy to get you to spend more money at the grocery store. Don’t you dare throw out food just because it’s “expired.”

No. 8

We’re a Philadelphia family. We yell “Go Birds!” from September until January and in February during the best years. We try to coach the players from the sofa, and we ask the referees how blind they could be while still having a job at least twice a game. We eat popcorn while wearing red and laugh at the Philly Phanatics antics. We support Gritty, even though we were really apprehensive at first. All he had to do was threaten murder to steal our hearts though. Being connected to Philadelphia sports is probably going to be the easiest item for you to learn. It’s in your blood.

No. 9

“Cool is timeless.” My dad had a million of these little quotes that he would share growing up. Of all of them, though, this is the one on my mind lately: “Cool is timeless.”

It’s something he would say when we’d have one of our many deep talks about popularity or “being cool.” It means that you don’t have to be popular or trendy to be cool. It meant that all you needed to do was be yourself, be authentic, and the rest would follow. What matters more than what anyone else thinks of you is what you think of yourself. If you think you’re cool now, you’re going to be cool forever. And I think you’re pretty darn cool.

No. 10

Most importantly, I am going to teach you about memories. I will teach you about all of the little moments and habits you store in your brain because one day, you’re going to want to hold onto them tighter than you hold my hand right now. One day, you’ll be too cool and too old to hold my hand. One day, I won’t be here to ask you to do it anyway. And on that day, you’ll have this list, and you’ll have these memories to look back on.

Maybe you’ll share them with your own son or nephew or partner or anyone else in your life who is important to you and you’ll cry a little. But then you’ll smile because you had some of the happiest moments of your life with your dad (in this case, me), just like I did.

Father’s Day will never be an easy day for me, and it probably won’t be for you either, but it can be a time to reflect on the happiest moments of life and remember being without a father on Father’s Day doesn’t have to be so bad after all.

Suggested snack pairing: A handful of Planters peanuts (must shake them like dice before throwing them back), honey BBQ chicken wings during a football game, cheese pizza (despite your allergy to oregano) or Chinese food. Boneless spare ribs are a must.

For more complaints, observations and general raging, follow me on Twitter @Alexandriammans.

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