Before kids, embarrassment was a rare emotion for me. Sure, there were accidental trips while walking or a misspoken word here and there, but, for the most part, I considered myself to be a pretty smooth dude.
Most people live that way until they have children. Once you find yourself in a family that often requires humiliation for entertainment or survival, you learn to make do. Sometimes it’s singing a Disney song to a crying baby while waiting in line at the supermarket. Other times, you find yourself taking part in an impromptu fashion show in front of shocked relatives. No matter the situation, you adapt and make it work.
One such example was a gift my wife and daughter had made for me shortly after Lucas was born. As part of my Father’s Day present, I was given a bright white T-Shirt with a big picture of both children on it. At the bottom was written, “World’s Best Dad.”
The sentiment was beautiful. The picture was just as wonderful. The thought of putting it on as a garment and wearing it into public…not so much.
I remember feigning an excited “Wow” when I opened the box. While I loved it at first sight, I knew the expectation was that I would wear it for the day. From the looks on all their faces, I knew I wasn’t mistaken.
Now, keep in mind, my clothes aren’t usually “quirky”. I don’t wear Looney Tunes ties or shirts that say, “Look How Awesome My Shirt Is”. I might wear a novelty item here and there, but this public display of fatherhood across my torso was one toke over the line.
I thought about the shirt the whole morning as I showered and prepared to go out to lunch. If it had been just a few years earlier, I would have folded it neatly in my closet and ran for the hills. However, it wasn’t a few years earlier. It was now.
So I wore the shirt.
I know you’re probably thinking, “James, it was Father’s Day. I’m sure there were tons of fathers at lunch dressed like that.”
Nope. Just me. They were all dressed like regular human beings.
That’s not to say that they didn’t have their own embarrassments to deal with. Whether doing a silly voice or dancing a Father’s Day jig, there were almost definitely some insane moments going on across the globe.
So, for the next six years, I continued to endure embarrassing moments at the hands of my kids. I’ve dealt with Olivia shrugging her shoulders when an acquaintance says “hi” and then staring at me for reaction. I’ve apologized to strangers at school functions who have had their iced coffee quickly slurped down by Lucas when they weren’t looking. I could go on all day. God knows they have.
That brings me to yesterday – and the whole point of this story. Preparing for Olivia’s 9th birthday party, I began to look for something I could wear. I tried to think of a shirt or outfit that could fit the occasion. Suddenly, it hit me.
I can wear the shirt with the kids on it!
Laughing, I imagined how much Olivia would love it. After all, she loved it so much in 2012. She’d love it now! That would be great! So much fun! Her friends would all see it and they’d all…well, they’d all…probably laugh at me. And her.
And she would hate it.
Then I remembered that I hated the shirt too.
Yet here I was years later, genuinely considering putting it on my body for my daughter’s party. It took a full two minutes before I even thought about how embarrassing it would be for me, her, and pretty much everyone she knows.
Then it hit me. This is the Circle of Dad. This is the reason why fathers are so embarrassing to kids as they get older. At the time our children are born, we’re usually at the peak moment of coolness. Slowly but surely, that gets eaten away.
You find yourself wearing a floppy pink hat at a tea party. Eaten away. You end up with lipstick on for some reason. Eaten away. You discover that you have infant puke all over your shirt just as you reach the front of the post office line. Gone.
Then, just as we’ve finally become accustomed to our new world, our kids grow up. Suddenly all the corny nonsense you were forced to do for the sake of family unity has become a source of humiliation again. The people you contorted yourself into a dorky knot to satisfy are now the ones hiding their heads in shame.
It’s too late, though. They’re the ones who made us this way. Show me a new dad squirming at the uncomfortable thought of wearing Mickey Mouse ears at Disney World and I’ll show you a grizzled dad who’s wearing Mickey Mouse ears to take prom pictures.
Sure we could try to go back to who we were before any of this kid stuff happened, but that’s a lot of work and we’re old now. The kids created this monster, now they have to deal with it. Blame it on the circle.