Attempting the Absurd to Achieve the Possible

Eight years ago, I wrote a column for the Abilene Reporter-News – a newspaper for which I still worked remotely as online content editor even though my family and I had moved from Abilene, TX to Little Rock, AR. (My blogging buddy Deana Nall used to write a wonderful, somewhat-similar column for her hometown newspaper, The Baytown Sun.) While I’m trying to take it easy on my carpal-tunnelled wrists and still try to keep up with New Wineskins editions and work on my book, I thought I’d re-post a few of mine, as she has occasionally done with some of hers. My column was called “Parenting on Purpose.”

(originally published October 11, 2002)

In my copywriting days at a big advertising agency, I wore a blue lapel button that read: “Only by attempting the absurd can we hope to achieve the impossible.”

I thought about that button when pondering possible motivations to threaten/entice my fourth-grader to either complete his work at school or bring it home and finish it. Grades didn’t seem to be doing it. Loss of privileges wasn’t cutting it either.

So I just told him, “You need to decide to do this. Doing your schoolwork helps you learn. It will also make your teacher and Mom and Dad very happy, and we will quit hassling you about it. In fact, it would make me so happy I’d dance.”

Then I went too far.

“Why, I would even do the Daddy Dance of Ultimate Embarrassment if you’ll get that work done at school.”

When his teacher called to tell me he hadn’t brought home a note from her about incomplete work, I told her we were as frustrated as she was about finding something that would motivate him.

That’s when I made my second mistake. I told her about my promise to do the Daddy Dance.

Last week on the way home from school, my son presented me with another note from his teacher, folded and stapled, on which he had hand-lettered “Please read.” When I opened it, I saw the three least-expected words I could have received in his teacher’s Spencerian script:

DO THE DANCE.

Well, there was no avoiding it, no delaying it, no hem-hawing or protesting or even explaining that even at my best I dance like a prairie chicken on a hot metal roof. So as soon as I parked the car, right there in the garage, I danced like a prairie chicken on a hot metal roof.

I did the Daddy Dance of Ultimate Embarrassment.

It’s kind of a jig, kind of a reel, kind of a Texas two-and-a-half-step. Kind of a vaudevillian disaster, actually. But the children like it. As a matter of fact, I’m a little worried my son is going to hurt himself, rolling on the concrete garage floor like that.

I’ve had to do it twice now. It seems to be pressing the magic button. Now my daughter, on her second jaunt through kindergarten, is hoping she will have schoolwork she can complete or bring home to finish.

There’s no going back now. Once I get on a creative kick (or twirl or two-step), it just takes over.

Yesterday afternoon I turned on the closed-captioning on the big TV that the children like to watch.

“Why are you doing that?” my son asked.

“To help your sister see the words as they’re spoken.”

“Oh,” he said. “Neat!” she said.

And I’m going to finish the discipline shelves for the kitchen. The discipline shelves, inspired by Matthew’s first-grade teacher, feature a flat wooden angel and a turkey for each child. For good behavior, they can pull an angel feather (half of a tongue depressor) with the treat promised on the back. For behaving like a turkey, they must pull a turkey feather with a punishment hidden on the back.

I’ll keep you posted, but for now it looks like I’ll be dancing for a while.

Stupid lapel button.

Keith Brenton is the father of Matthew, 9, and Laura, 6. He and his wife, Angi, are adoptive parents. As content/media editor, he helps maintain Reporter-News Online and works at home. You can reach him by e-mail at [no longer active], but he admits he doesn’t have all the answers.

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