McKeithan Column

Published 10:09 am Saturday, November 15, 2008

By Staff
Breakfast with kids, a time to bond
Birds and bees never so confusing
I had a rare opportunity on Sunday to have a real conversation with my two sons. We played church hooky and went to a local restaurant — three men bonding over eggs, coffee and Mountain Dew.
It was nice to spend time with the boys. I enjoyed a light breakfast of grits, scrambled eggs with pork brains and cheese, sausage, bacon, country ham with red-eye gravy, bran muffin (without butter, because I’m “eatin’ healthy” these days) and two Mountain Dews for dessert. Now THAT’S comfort food.
Holt is a worldly-wise-beyond-his-years 11-year-old and Ben — his younger brother by 18 months — has a great sense of humor and a carefree approach to life that I hope never fades.
As I sat quietly reading the awesome local paper and chewing with my mouth open, my kids started peppering me with questions. They have reached the stage in life where my answers are treated with suspicion and disbelief. They’re smart enough now to know that I’m merely faking my way through life. They think that’s funny.
They also know I can’t resist answering their questions. I always have a carefully considered reply and am eager to show that “I am the Great and Powerful Oz!” You see — as I’ve explained before in this column — I have never met a question to which I had no answer. Ever.
Other fathers would use such opportunities to teach kids about character. “If you don’t know the answer to something, admit it and then find the answer,” they might say. I prefer the make-something-up-and-keep-babbling-until-they-break-off-eye-contact approach. Unintentionally, I’m teaching my kids that it is better to BE a character, than to have it.
I am not the type of Dad you’ll see “relaxing” at home, wearing a tie and smoking a pipe with legs crossed (woman-like) while reading the afternoon paper. Nope. I’m no Ward Cleever so the McKeithan versions of Wally and “The Beav’” are in big trouble.
My breakfast with the boys was a prime opportunity to demonstrate my paternal-response-deflection technique:
On differences between soup and chowder: “Well, son … let me explain: You see, ‘soup’ only has 4 letters, and ‘chowder’ has 7 letters, a net difference of 3 letters. Also, did you know if you rearrange its letters, ‘chowder’ becomes ‘wohdrec?’”
I respond to another tough question: “That’s a good question there, son. Jam is what daddy does with his band; jelly is what you’re eating on your toast there, boy, and don’t even ask me about preserves. Now eat, I’m trying to read this awesome newspaper.”
The boys had set me up with two off-speed pitches, now came the heat:
I knew it was time to have “the talk.” I have long dreaded this moment. Not because I fear the stress and discomfort of an awkward conversation; I’m afraid I’ll get it wrong and scar my children for life.
Nonetheless, I was “all in” and imparted the wisdom of the ages to my kids. After five minutes of my mangled explanation, Ben said, “But Daddy, isn’t it dangerous for a bird to fly around with a baby in its bill? It could die!”
My last ounce of remaining credibility was gone. The boys were looking at each other with a smirk; they knew they had me. I was chum in the water.
To my relief, Holt took over the conversation. He’d had enough. After he had finished explaining (correctly) the details of “relations” to his younger brother and me, we departed the restaurant having bonded over our new understanding of the world.
I was much relieved when the conversation finally changed for good. “Daddy, what’s the deal with Santa Claus?”
(I had attempted enough answers for one day.)
Ray McKeithan is associate publisher of the Washington Daily News. If you have questions or comments about operations, policies or content in the WDN that can be addressed in future columns, please send an email to: or call 252-940-4205.