My sense of humor is best appreciated by children, a fact that most adults readily acknowledge. When I tell jokes to grown-ups, they roll their eyes, thinking, Just when will this guy grow up?
Mind you, I don’t tell fart jokes, but I am excessively goofy.
Sadly, the children are outgrowing my sense of humor. Ellie, my youngest, turned six last month. Not only is she shedding her milk teeth, she’s losing patience with me. No longer does she find my threats to bite her nose off shriekingly funny. Instead, she finds me bothersome.
Last night, I was goofing around with Ellie and Sebastian, my nine-year-old who likes to torment her in his own silly way.
I asked Ellie who she thought was meaner, me or Sebastian?
“Why am I meaner?”
“Because you tell bad jokes.”
I gulped. Until that moment, I never thought myself mean.
“Okay then. Who’s nicer: me or Sebastian.”
Ellie put down the stuffed giraffe, a Christmas present, with which she had been playing. She looked at Sebastian, then at me. “I guess you are, Daddy, because you’re trying to make me be a good person.”
I was shocked, and I’m writing this now not to broadcast what a good father I am. Rather, I was shocked at how perceptive she was. We don’t consciously talk about character formation in my household. Though it is my deepest desire for all our children to be good people, I’ve not really thought much about how the cumulative total of our parental decisions can help our children become good people. I mean, we’re not the kind of people who read parenting books or seek out child psychologists to help us chart out over-arching parental strategies. Most of parenting is done at an ad hoc basis: we wipe the tears that appear when they appear, we help our children study for tests as they arise, and we laugh with them when something funny happens.
But wow, when she said that, my heart leapt.
And then I asked, “Ellie? Can I bite your nose?”
She crossed her arms and scowled as only young people can. “Dadddy!”