hen I was 5 years old I was the only kindergartener in public school who willingly wore a tie to school.
I had three in the bottom drawer of my dresser and I remember them all very vividly: the blue one in the picture, a brown one and a red one, clip-ons all. I didn’t wear them every day (what sort of uptight, type-A, Alex P. Keaton public school kindergartener would THAT be?) and my parents certainly didn’t make me wear them. I wanted to wear them. I wanted to wear them because that’s what my Dad wore every day when he went off to work (with requisite obnoxious pattern, wire-rimmed John Lennon glasses, and the out of control white-man’s afro you would expect from 1979). I’ve mentioned before how the word “buddy” has special meaning in our family. At that time in my life there was me and my dad, and then there was everything else. He was my superhero. He was my idol. He was my buddy. Wearing the ties to school when nobody else did was my outward expression to the world that I was dressing like my Daddy because what he and I had was special. It still is.
Now I’ve got a little disciple of my own, and the hero worship is pretty clear from the other side of the relationship. He spends most of the day
with his mother, sister and grandmother, so when I’m around he’s very locked into me and whatever it is that I’m doing. Even though he can’t articulate it with words, when we’re together I can see in his eyes the same feeling I felt putting that tie on back in 1979. What my son and I have is special. He tells me all the time, “We’re buddies, Daddy”. He and I both know how much more that means than the words all by themselves.
I don’t wear a tie when I go off to work, as much as Art Dugoni and Peter Schiff tried to write that into our Dental-DNA. (Sorry guys. I just can’t do it). Even so, history repeats itself. The son becomes the father. For everything there is a season – turn, turn, turn. That feeling I had with my dad, the feeling that what he and I had was special, I also have with my son; as well as need to reinforce that bond however we can, and to outwardly express it for the world to see.
My son and I don’t have cheezy 70’s ties, but whether by chance or design, we have managed to accumulate virtually identical T-shirt drawers, and as often as we can we parade our matching outfits wherever we go.
I was talking about it with a mother at the elementary school as we waited for the kindergarteners to be excused. She mentioned how cute it was that my son and I did that, and that she actually looked forward to seeing what new combinations we come up with week after week. (On a totally separate note, if you want to get attention from the ladies just go to the grocery store hand-in-hand with your irresistibly adorable 3 year old son proudly sporting matching Captain America T-shirts. It’s like catnip for hot soccer-moms. Too bad ladies. This DorkDaddy is very happily married.) Whether we’re going to the grocery store, playing in the park, heading off to the comic book shop, or watching his sister’s soccer game, when my son and I are out and about “dressed same”, my heart just beams. Just like back in 1979 there’s me and him, and then there’s everything else. When he looks up at me at the grocery store, holding my hand, wearing matching Captain America T-shirts, the look in his eyes tells me he feels it too.
Dress-up play isn’t limited to public outings either. Obviously it’s crucial that a Dad takes part in his kids’ fantasy play, sometimes as passive participant, sometimes as a guide. There’s just as much magic to be had when Daddy plays Batman and son plays Robin, as there is when son plays Batman and Daddy plays Robin. In this way we also have the opportunity to invite others into our special relationship. Big sister gets to be Princess Leia. Mommy gets to be Wonder Woman (I’ll totally get you the outfit if you want, Honey).
But that presents another problem. In a matter of weeks my relationship with my son is about to be changed forever. Another man is coming into his life with whom he will rightfully be closer than he and I can ever hope to be. Everything will change. It will never again be just the two of us. When his baby brother is born he will have to foster the relationship between the two of them on his own, as he sees fit. I won’t ever again be able to say he is my #1 guy – that it’s just me and him. When the baby comes it’ll be just me and him… and him. When considering the “dress same” dynamic in our relationship I’ve often thought of how I could work it into a group of three, as opposed to two. Of course we could all three wear “same” T-shirts, but then we’ll wind up looking like those annoying groups you see walking around amusement parks. That’s too dorky even for me. I have come up with one viable, thematic option, but my wife vigorously vetoed the idea when I showed it to her. In truth, as a hardcore advocate of Team-Star Wars (and, indeed, founding member of the Star Wars Fan Club from way back when) I’m not sure I could bring myself to pull the trigger on that one.
By the by, if you are a DorkDad interested in indoctrinating your kid(s) in much the same way, or if you have a DorkDad in your life who needs birthday/Christmachanuquanzacah presents, I have found two websites incredibly enabling in that regard. Give Superherostuff.com a look-see, as well as ThinkGeek.net. The nerd(s) in your life will thank you.
For now, we’ve got about 8 weeks before our party of two becomes a party of three. I’m going to soak up all the me-and-him time I can. At the moment that means that means I’m wearing my Captain America T-shirt while he wears his full, head-to-toe Cap. Costume (mask, shield and padded muscles included).
I know it won’t last forever. He won’t always want to “dress same”. The day will come when my boy will need to do everything he can to distinguish himself from me, rather than bond himself to me. But if I’ve done my job as a father, the bond we form in these early years will make the roots of our relationship grow wide and deep. Until then, as long has he’s willing, as long as he wants to outwardly express our special relationship, I’m going to do everything I can to encourage it.