Mr. Popularity – The Early Years

Mr. Popularity – The Early Years

This is my high school senior yearbook photo. I know what you’re thinking: Tim, you look so cool – not the least bit nerdy.

This is my high school senior yearbook photo. I know what you’re thinking: Tim, you look so cool – not the least bit nerdy.

I am often asked, “Tim, were you always so popular and beloved by all who know you?” Admittedly this question is usually posed during a recurring dream in which Scarlett Johansson presents me with the Pulitzer Prize for Bad Humor Writing. You may find this hard to imagine, but in my younger days, I was not nearly so popular with the girls or envied by the guys; nor was I as comfortable making verifiably false claims as I am today.

The truth is, before college, where I assumed a totally new identity and back story, I was rather shy and nervous – especially around the fairer sex. I blame this on attending the Albany Academy, an all-boys’ school, for twelve years and being a late bloomer (I expect to start blooming any day now).

In addition to these impediments, I was one of the lucky teens who wore braces, was afflicted by acne, and was slightly overweight. I also lived nowhere near any of the other kids in my school, so getting together with them was a no go. Then sprinkle in a large dollop of parental disapproval from an extremely strict father who perpetually described me as “a disappointment,” and you have the perfect recipe for an awkward young man not exactly brimming with self-confidence.

At the Academy, a private military school, there were the usual cliques – the cool kids, jocks, theater guys, and stoners. I belonged to a very small and eclectic group consisting of one member: me. I was the pleasant enough but somewhat serious “straight arrow” who was considered too much of a bookworm to invite to parties. On most Saturday nights, while the majority of my class was getting drunk at Woody’s house or Hayward’s or Robb’s, I was typically at home, falling asleep watching Mannix at 10:00 on CBS. 

Truth be told, I didn’t really care that I missed all the parties, in part because I did not drink (still don’t), and also, I just was not into that scene. I found meaning in studying – all the time. There’s a word for someone like me who routinely got good grades and devoutly completed all homework before allowing himself to play: A Nerd.

I guess, if I’m being honest with myself (something I try to avoid as much as possible), I was a little behind the curve in a few areas – like what to say on a date… or what to wear on a date… or how to get a date. Continue reading “Mr. Popularity – The Early Years” »

Things My Father Taught Me

Things My Father Taught Me

My father was an extraordinary man. He was an attorney who won 99% of his cases. He played piano like a virtuoso even though he couldn’t read a note of music. He was extremely well-read. That is, I assume he was since we had a room the size of an apartment devoted to his book collection.

He also was a perfectionist with a serious case of OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder). I remember the time he admonished me for placing the tape dispenser in the drawer on its side rather than upright. I believe that was the moment my father realized that my education was sorely lacking. I was 15 at the time. For, in the years that followed, my father took it upon himself to teach me the “proper” way to handle many different challenges that life presented.

Let me explain with an example. Say you’re alone in the house and you hear a scary noise that sounds like it might be coming from inside the house. You’re in total darkness. Should you:

  1. Grab a crowbar for protection against a possible home invader.
  2. Yell loudly to scare away any wild animals that may have strayed into your house. Or…
  3. Use the back of your hand to switch on the light.

The correct answer, according to my father, was, of course, C. One should always flip on a light switch with the back of one’s hand. The reason is obvious – to a crazy person: To avoid leaving messy, oily finger prints on the light switch plate. Evidently, that should be your primary concern when you suspect burglars may be breaking into your house in the middle of the night.

My dad died in 1979. In the 24 years that I shared this planet with him, he taught me scores of similar life lessons. Most of these were things I thought I had mastered by the third grade. Apparently, I was wrong. I might be performing a mundane task, such as brushing my teeth, when I’d notice in the mirror that objects were closer than they appeared. Specifically, my father, who would be standing in the doorway, quietly studying my technique, shaking his head in dismay. He would then deliver a lengthy dissertation on the correct procedure for a routine that I was evidently still mangling after all these years.

If it weren’t for my dad, I never would have realized the cutlery hazards that awaited me at the dinner table. Do you know the proper way to put a spoon in your mouth? Is it:

  1. Open your mouth BEFORE inserting the spoon. Then close said mouth and suck in the food.
  2. Fill the spoon only halfway; gently insert the spoon into your mouth, avoiding a slurping sound. Or…
  3. A gentleman NEVER puts a spoon into his mouth. He brings it to his lips and gently tips the soup onto his palate without the spoon ever crossing the threshold of his lips. Where ARE your manners!?!

According to my father the correct answer is C. But technically there was no correct answer – because whatever I did, it would have been wrong. Because, my dear father was (how can I put it gently?) flippin’ crazy.

I have so many fond memories of those bonding moments with my dad. I even (surreptitiously) kept a list of every life skill he dadsplained to me: How to use a bottle opener; How to make toast; How to bite my tongue when he routinely insulted my intelligence. I gave my private list a snarky title: “Things My Father Taught Me.”

I feel morally obligated to pass this wisdom onto you, my readers, so that you too may prepare your children for the harsh world that awaits them.

Thank you, dad, for teaching me:

How to water a plant

How to toss something into a trash can

How to lift a suitcase

How to unpack a suitcase efficiently (I didn’t know that was a thing)

How to adjust the angle of a table lamp for optimal reading lighting

How to dry dishes

How to walk properly

How to chew food properly

How to hang a shirt on a hanger (don’t forget to button the collar button and the third button down)

How to open a shower curtain

How to fold a towel and put it on a towel rack (make sure the width at the top is the same as the bottom)

How to hold a sharp knife (this would have come in handy, had I opted to pursue a career as a mugger)

How to close a door behind me

How to buy low and sell high (I really should have paid closer attention to that lesson)

How to pour soda into a glass

How to hide the body and not leave prints (Okay, I made that one up. Just wanted to see if you were still paying attention)

How to hold the steering wheel (always at 11 and 1, never 10 & 2. My Driver’s Ed instructor was apparently a charlatan)

How to sit at a table (your back should NEVER touch the back of the chair)

How to say hello properly when answering the phone

How to dial a rotary phone (Always use your middle finger. To this day, I still use my middle finger for all sorts of situations.)

And yes, the proper position of a scotch tape dispenser when placed back in a drawer: upright.

One day, my father discovered my incriminating list hidden in my bottom dresser drawer, underneath my pajamas. Surprisingly, he did not take it as a tribute. Go figure. On that very memorable occasion, he taught me another valuable life lesson: Never hide in your pajama drawer something you don’t want your crazed father to find.

As misguided as his lessons were, I know my dad meant well. I think about that list every now and then. Occasionally, it makes me cringe slightly – usually at the moment I catch myself telling my 21-year-old daughter the proper way to hold the steering wheel.

That’s the view from the bleachers. Perhaps I’m off base.

PS: If you enjoyed this week’s post, let me know by posting a comment, giving it a Like or sharing this post on Facebook.

Check out my latest humor book: YOU’RE GROUNDED FOR LIFE: Misguided Parenting Strategies That Sounded Good at the Time

©Tim Jones Betsy Jones, View from the Bleachers 2017 (Betsy Jones is my sister and my editor. In fairness, she actually re-wrote most of this piece).

When it comes to our kids, winning isn’t everything. Whining is…..

When it comes to our kids, winning isn’t everything. Whining is…..

Winning - Whining girlFor too long, parents have been pushing their kids way too hard by doing outrageous things like telling them they need to get good grades if they want to get into college or harping on them relentlessly to practice piano for 30 minutes a week if they want to improve their skills. . Those parents are monsters!

When I was a kid playing on various sports teams, year after year, the ruthless message drilled into me was that if you want to win, you have to try hard. And maybe even practice. I internalized this misguided achievement message at an early age. Little did I realize the long-term crippling effect caused by the constant parental pressure to “do your best” as a child. Years later, the damage is evident, as I now have a good-paying job and live in a lovely home in a safe neighborhood that has excellent schools with teachers and coaches who push my kids to do their best. When will this vicious cycle of achievement end?

I have been as guilty as any parent, always sending the overbearing message to my daughters that if they want to get into a competitive college they might consider putting down their cell phone for two minutes and perhaps studying for tomorrow’s final exam.  In hindsight, I now realize that all this harsh talk about doing their best and applying themselves was actually undermining my kids’ fragile sense of entitlement.

Finally, a sports league in Canada has gotten its priorities about kids and “winning” figured out. Recently, the Gloucester Dragons Recreational Soccer league of Ottawa, Canada came up with a new rule designed to protect children from the emotional scars of losing in sports. Their new rule? If a team wins a game by more than five goals, that team loses by default. The rule was designed to prevent blowout victories and to encourage good sportsmanship. Hats off to you, Gloucester Dragons Soccer League. Well done.

Winning - kids playing soccerThe results so far have been impressive. Now, whenever a team goes up by five goals, their players usually stop playing, walk off the field, and head over to the playground to climb on the monkey bars in order to avoid accidentally scoring the losing goal. Now that’s true sportsmanship.

I applaud the kid-friendly policy of this Canadian youth soccer league. Oh, sure, some people may criticize this new policy as yet further conclusive proof that the USA can beat the crap out of Canada anytime it wants. But I will ardently defend this enlightened new approach. Our kids’ psyches are extremely fragile from the first 18 months of life until the time when they no longer need our emotional and financial support – typically around age 37.

We need to shelter our children from anything that might damage their self-esteem, such as losing 27 to 0 in a youth soccer match, as happened to nine-year-old Sarah Miller’s team last weekend. Sarah is the goalie. Think of what such a devastating thumping might do to her self-confidence. The last thing little Sarah needs is to internalize that she is a terrible goalie. (Although, as an aside, I have to say, Sarah really sucks at goaltending. She has no business being allowed out of the stands. But please don’t tell her parents you heard it from me.)

As the Ottawa youth soccer league has taught us by its inspiring example, when it comes to our highly impressionable young children, life should not be about winning and losing, or showing up for practice, or getting cut from the baseball team just because little Jimmy can’t seem to figure out that the pitcher’s mound is not first base. Instead, our jobs as parents should be to protect our precocious angels from the real world that is waiting to beat them into submission.

That’s why I’ve adopted a totally new parenting approach that focuses on preserving my kids’ belief in their greatness, regardless of evidence to the contrary. In the past, if a teacher gave my child a D on an important math test, I’d probably have a serious chat with my child and ask why she chose to stay up till 1am playing Candy Crush on her cell phone instead of studying for the test.

But now I realize that such an interrogation might harm my child’s belief about her incredible brilliance. Now, if that same teacher were to give my daughter a D, I’d immediately berate the teacher for unfairly downgrading my child’s score simply because she gave incorrect answers. After all, when it comes to what’s right or wrong on a math text, who’s to say what the real answer is to 12 minus 5? It’s all so subjective. And I would be sure to praise my little princess on her outstanding choice of using a #2 pencil and remind her that she’s still an A+ student in my book.

Winning - Angry boylChildhood flies by so quickly. You will have plenty of time later on to awaken your kids to the reality that life does not always even up the score to make sure everyone’s a winner. Let someone else teach them that the world does not owe them a six-figure income and a penthouse condo by age 25. Now is the time to remind your young superstar how special they are – even if they just tripped and did a face plant during a soccer game, and did so while only riding the bench.

So, this summer, if by some act of blatant favoritism your perfect son or daughter does not get picked to play on your neighborhood’s Select soccer team, remember that your child is still incredibly gifted. It’s not your child’s fault that she skipped all the practices and couldn’t be bothered to show up for tryouts. That just means she has more time to work on that perfect tan this summer. She’s going to be a suntan superstar, I just know it.

That’s the view from the bleachers. Perhaps I’m off base.

Tim Jones - Profile at Safeco - TinyPS: If you enjoyed this week’s post, let me know by posting a comment, giving it a Like or sharing this post on Facebook.

© Tim Jones, View from the Bleachers 2014

My triumph over overwhelming adversity

My triumph over overwhelming adversity

As I look back upon my life thus far, I realize just how blessed I am. Two wonderful daughters, a talented portrait artist wife, living in a gorgeous city (Seattle). But you know, it wasn’t always this way. My life story has been fraught with challenging and perilous obstacles at almost every turn.

Much like Jesus, I had a very humble origin. Like baby Jesus, I too was born in a little town called Bethlehem (just outside of Albany, NY). My childhood home, while not quite a manger, was rustic in its own way. While we did not have sheep like baby Jesus, we did have a sheepdog, at our 3,700 sq. ft. suburban split level five-bedroom house. I missed out on the simple joys of attending a public school. Instead I had to be bussed 20 minutes away to an all boys’ prep school for grades 1 through 12. I rarely got a window seat on the bus. But it made me stronger.

I was forbidden to wear colorful shorts, fun t-shirts or high top sneakers to school. Every day I had to wear the same dull grey uniform with a black tie. It was a military college prep school. Every year, I had to march in the Veteran’s Day Parade while the public school kids all had the day off so they could come to the parade to mock me. But I never complained about the injustice of it all. I reminded myself about all the kids in Africa, Bangladesh and New Jersey who had even less than I had.

Continue reading “My triumph over overwhelming adversity” »