When I saw the picture, I was worried. All the fatherly wisdom I could muster was, “Keep your hands out of the gator’s mouth.”
Contrary to the cliché, time doesn’t fly. It moves at the speed of light. At least it does for me. My kid isn’t a kid anymore. She’s an adult with a first job and an extra internship, living in the state’s largest city, far away, learning to navigate the grown-up world of rental agreements and car maintenance.
I try to offer fatherly wisdom, often in the form of a suggestion rather than a mandate.
“You might want to get your oil changed.”
“Changed into what?”
“Into what? Into new oil! Oh, for the love of … ”
And I try to listen when she needs to vent or talk something through and doesn’t need any fatherly suggestions or mandates. It took me a little while — just 30 or 40 years — to realize the ones I love don’t always want me to solve their problems or impart to them my vast (in my opinion) wisdom. They sometimes just want me to listen.
When my kid was in elementary school, she once told me about a boy who picked on her. It was classic bully behavior from the little punk ... uh, I mean troubled, misunderstood youngster. I reacted with I thought was cool-headed restraint.
“What? I will go up to that school, stomp a mud hole in somebody’s hind end and walk it dry.”
“No, Dad, that’s OK.”
She handled the problem herself. In a couple of weeks, the boy’s mother called me and requested that I ask my daughter to stop making her son’s life hellish. It was one of my first realizations that the kid could take of herself when she needed to.
And that’s what she did in the years that followed, making her way through college, around Germany, into New Zealand and out of Australia, encountering a variety of adventures without me having to stomp one single mud hole nor walk it dry.
But I still worry, and I still keep my stomping boots by the door.
The latest situation — and opportunity to offer fatherly advice and impart my vast (in my opinion) wisdom — came about when she messaged me a picture of a critter she encountered that day during her new internship.
The critter was an alligator that appeared to be several feet long and, judging by its grimace, not in the best of moods.
“Meet Wally,” the kid wrote. “He was found living in someone’s bathtub during a drug bust. He is sweet and has bone problems. But he does not like being picked up.”
What? Oh, for the love of …
I thought the internship involved taking care of bunnies and squirrels and telling elementary school students about the dangers of global warming, not battling deadly bathtub meth-gators with osteoporosis and intimacy problems.
I tried to quickly recall everything I knew about gators, but all I could think of at that moment was the 1980 monster movie “Alligator” starring Robert Forster about the titular gator that snacks on a bunch of discarded pet carcasses infused with experimental growth formula, expands to the size of a Buick and eats people at a high-society wedding.
If I told the kid, “Don’t feed the gator experimental growth formula and stay away from weddings” it would have only made sense to me and Robert Forster. So, I said, “Keep your hands out of the gator’s mouth.” It was more of a mandate than a suggestion, but I felt it was necessary in this situation.
I’m sure everything will be fine. Deep breath. Let it go. I’m not worried — much. Hopefully, I won’t have to find out if my stomping boots are gator-proof.