Perhaps I shouldn't complain. Others fathers have it worse. I know, too, that if I say anything THEY will put an asterisk next to my child's name to warn all future teachers, "Watch out! The Old Man's a Troublemaker!" This is, however, the age of investigative journalism, and so I intend here to blow the lid off the whole thing.
The other night I missed "Love Boat." I had to drive my 14-year-old daughter 15 miles through the bush to Vienna so she could buy four Latin American postage stamps. At Hertz's cost of 42 cents a mile, that little 30-mile jaunt set me back $12.60. And there's my time. I could just as well have spent the evening sacking groceries at the Safeway -- say in Potomac or Great Falls. (I do, after all, hold a degree.) Add, then, lost wages and the total comes to $22.60.
For what? For Hecuba? Never mind Hecuba. The whole point of that expedition was to help my daughter get a better mark in her Spanish class.
Time was when I might have tried to reason with my daughter. Now I know better. I have learned that, in what should be an equilateral triangle of Parent, Teacher and Child, old Dad ends up a big, fat hypotenuse.
The stamp outrage was only the most recent. I have spent great sums of good Martini Money buying fishfood, aquariums and scores of guppies -- all this so that I might sit home evenings underfeeding some and overfeeding others and then testing those finny, little fellows for their nervous disorders and weight loss. From this, I still carry scars. A half-starved guppy will attack you the minute your back is turned.
I have, again, spent many a long weekend digging up roots for the Shea family tree required each year for Civics-4B. I must say that after four shots at this, for as many children, I have compiled a glorious list of ancestors -- Adam and Eve, St. Patrick, the kaiser, Eric the Red and Moses.
And there are always those "extra credit" teacher-pleasers.
I think it was Kathy who did it to me. Or was it Anne? Or Lora? At any rate, I suddenly realized one morning a few years back that I was scheduled to speak on transportation to a career seminar at Langley High School. The idea was to have 50 or 60 fathers speak about their particular jobs in an effort to try to expose the underprivileged Langleys to various careers in the event, God forbid, they ever had to make a living.
The morning of the seminar I felt pretty good. There I was -- me, a big dog in the Department of Transportation -- working with the other fathers to help guide Young America. Those other daddies included two Cabinet officers, one senator, four ambassadors, the head of the Secret Service, someone named Zbigniew Brzezinski--all these on top of an anxious bevy of neglected congressmen, Supreme Court justices, World Bankers and other miscellaneous nondescripts.
Despite this competition, I had a large audience -- a fact that surprised me. I was to learn the reason later. The seminar came during one of the oil shocks of the '70s and, as my daughter explained, the young students before me were worried about a gasoline shortage. "They all got new cars for Christmas."
I also had the misfortune to sire an achiever. My son won a blue ribbon and a trip to the county science fair with a toy computer he had rigged to work like the real thing. Suffice to say, that blue ribbon cost me 17 bucks in construction paper, Magic Markers and flashing lights plus, when I tried to work the thing, six consecutive teeth-rattling electric shocks.
I shall be mercifully brief. A county science fair consists of a 100 kids all with long heads and all trying, by means of black boxes full of diodes, hexadecimals, and solid propellants, to produce loud noises, offensive smells or pages and pages of unintelligible figures.
One of these Junior Scientists, in the booth opposite my son's, was a youngster who could not have been more than 10 years old -- a true charmer with curly blond hair, blue eyes and a big, friendly smile bubbling over with the sheer joy of living. In his booth, however, were no laser beams, space ships or nuclear reactors -- nothing but a crazy looking typewriter. That typewriter, it turned out, was a computer terminal wired to the real thing and that little stinker of a kid had programmed that machine to provide the young passersby with appropriate college data -- their chances of getting into the college of their choice, the probability of their success, and alternate schools should they be rejected.
Young Mister Obnoxious, of course, won the blue ribbon, and here's the dismal kicker.
That terminal in Fairfax County was connected to a computer on Long Island. All weekend, that precocious blue-eyed monster was playing around with a leased telephone wire.
And what does computer time cost?
Never mind. His daddy owned the computer company.
I have, let it be said, learned from all this. Now with the last of my daughters in high school, I shall -- when pro football starts up again -- forsake my beloved Redskins in favor of the dreaded Cowboys, and each Sunday during the half I shall summon Julie in and point out to her the advantages of a career as a Dallas cheerleader: fame, friends, travel and, well -- if you must -- exposure.
Selfish? Perhaps, but the mere thought of four years of nothing but Sis-Boom-Bah and Pompons fills me with sublime Rolaid. No more English Lit. ("Gosh! Mom doesn't even know the difference between a simile and a metaphor!")
No more New Math. ("Well, Julie, your text book says 'In decimal arithmetic, each digit takes its value from its position along the base or radix with each digit, as one moves from right to left, increasing by a factor of 10.' That's what the book says and I -- I really think it means what it says.")
And, finally, no more Economics. ("What did you do in the Depression, Daddy?")