I HAD A QUICK answer this week for my kids' question of what I want for Father's Day. This year I want their backs.
I told my two, twentysomething sons, one home for the summer and one visiting for the weekend, that I wanted them to hang around the house long enough on Father's Day, tomorrow, to haul some heavy, old cabinets out of the basement.
This gift of sweat is different from presents of previous years such as books and polo shirts. But the shift from sentiment to muscle has been gradual. Years ago, when the kids sat on my lap and sang songs for me, I was the household's beast of burden, the one who carried heavy stuff, including the occasionally napping kid.
Now I am only too happy to hand off the heavy-lifting chores to my offspring, the guys with the broad backs. But the milestone that is Father's Day got me thinking about how household responsibilities and attitudes have shifted over the years.
In some ways, handing over duties to your kids is a concise job description of what a dad is supposed to do. You train your kids then cut them loose. It is rarely that simple, either the training or the cutting loose. There is clinging, on both ends.
There are, for example, a few jobs, such as taking out the trash before the sanitation truck rumbles down the alley, that I can't seem to shake.
But others, such as programming the computers or manipulating the cell phones or hooking up the DVD player, have blissfully been passed to the new generation.
My Father's Day review of the state of household dogma found some areas where my kids and I are in harmony, and others where we are at loggerheads.
On the core values front, I am happy to say that my kids seem to have adopted my basic beliefs. This means they fervently follow the Orioles, root for the Ravens (this year's return to the 46 defense was greeted with cries of Hallelujah!), have opinions about who will win the NBA and mute Bob Costas whenever his visage appears on the TV screen.
Our ideas about what constitutes leisure, however, differ drastically. My kids see one or two movies a week, I see one or two a month. Judging by the way they keep changing the preset buttons on the car radio, our tastes in audio entertainment are divergent. When I get in a car that either of my sons has driven, the buttons are set to stations that play loud music. I reset the buttons to stations that deliver modulated tones of news, talk and attempted humor. Except for sporting events and Simpsons reruns, we rarely watch the same television shows. Our older son reads novels, and recommends some to me.
One notable area of conflict is the laundry room. Despite years of attempted indoctrination, I have failed to get anyone to subscribe to my belief that clean clothes should be stored in individual plastic milk crates in the laundry room. I thought I had converted them to the basket system when they lived at home. But once they went off to college they reverted to the pile-it-on-the-bedroom-floor approach.
My sons have shown much progress in the manly arts of starting the fire in the barbecue grill and unloading the dishwasher. Moreover, they are much more skilled than I in manipulating their mother. Somehow when they are home they can cajole her to fetch more groceries, to cook their favorite dishes and to iron their shirts. Maybe I could learn something from them.
They also seem to have passed the period of their lives when they seemed devoted to destroying the house. One day 10 years or so ago, I came home to find a hole in the kitchen plasterboard wall that was the exact size of our younger son. He had been tossed through the wall by his big brother during an impromptu wrestling match. That is how I became acquainted with the art of plasterboard repair.
Now the younger kid is much bigger than his older brother, so the likelihood of wrestling matches and fractured furnishings has diminished.
Besides, while many things have changed in the household over the years, the one rule that remains inviolate is: No fighting on Father's Day.