Introduced to most of us thanks to it being the game that came packaged with the Gameboy in 1989, the Russian-invented Tetris was the Angry Birds of my childhood.
I never owned a Gameboy, but by 1991, all my friends did. Because of enough spend-the-night’s at my friends’ houses in the midst of watching the Ninja Turtles movie for the 27th time on VHS and drinking Sharkleberry Fin Kool-Aid, I was able to be just as good at playing it as the next kid wearing a neon green slap bracelet over-using the phrase “Cowabunga, dudes!”
Over two decades later, as a 30 year-old dad, I realize that this seemingly-non-fun yet highly addictive game symbolizes my life as father in five particular ways:
1. There is always one more logistical problem to solve. Just like the need to manage and maneuver the constantly dropping blocks on Tetris, so it is in the life of a dad. Driving somewhere today with your kid today? Better hope you packed everything, including a camera to take pictures to share on Facebook. Fingers crossed that your child will actually fall asleep on the car ride there.
2. You must maintain solid ground by eliminating inconsistencies. In Tetris, the more gaps left in each row, the harder it becomes to pass the level. Obviously, we as dads have to be clear on the boundaries we set for our children and consistent on following through with discipline. Otherwise, the whole thing sort of becomes a frustrating mess.
3. Being passive doesn’t really work. Just like in the game, the sky is always falling so there’s no time to just sit back and watch things work themselves out on their own. As I’ve published more Dadvice articles, a common theme I’m seeing is the importance of the dad being proactive.
4. It takes looking at each challenge from several perspectives. You can turn each block around from each angle to see which will be the best fit before it hits the ground. Similarly, if you’re trying to figure out whether or not you should let your baby “cry it out” to learn to sleep through the night, you have to consider it from several perspectives: yours, your wife’s, your child’s, and common sense.
5. The experience is nearly universally known. While many versions of Tetris have been released over the years, the one on Gameboy is the Tetris most of us remember. Not every man has ever played Tetris at some point in his life nor does every man eventually become a dad. But as for the rest of us, we share the same frustrations and joys by default.
Tetris and fatherhood are important rites of passage for a man. At least for those of us who were still kids when The Simpsons was a just brand-new show which our parents were reluctant to let us watch and Jaleel White was on TV because he was playing Steve Urkel, as opposed to being a dancing game show contestant.
Do the Urkel. Or the Bartman.
Interesting trivia: “Do The Bartman” was written by Michael Jackson; though he was never credited for it because of contract obligations with another record label.
Have you found me yet? Yes, this really is my 4th grade class picture from the 1990-1991 school year, which was truly one of my favorite years of childhood. Why? I’ll tell you why.
First of all, I was in the same class as my “special friend”/crush since Kindergarden, Sara Shaw, in the plaid red dress on the front row. Secondly, that was the year that slap bracelets were the rage.
Thirdly, I was the perfect age to truly appreciate the Ninja Turtles in their prime; on the playground I always pretended to be “Nickelangelo.” Fourthly, though a lot of my friends’ parents banned The Simpsons in their households, my parents were cool with it. In fact, I think I acquired literally a dozen Simpsons t-shirts that year.
And lastly, one of my favorite sitcoms was Family Matters- mainly because of Steve Urkel. You would think that Steve Urkel, America’s favorite nerd of the ’90′s, would not be someone I would aspire to look like in any way. But sure enough, I begged my mom for a pair of suspenders. And because this was a time when neon colors were quite fashionable, I was able to obtain a pair of neon green suspenders.
I wore them at least once a week to school. Unsurprisingly, I deliberately wore my green suspenders for Picture Day.
As it’s plain to see in that picture, I was 100% comfortable with my goofiness; mostly unaware and apathetic when it came to whether other kids thought I looked cool or not.
I was in my own little world, where daydreams and reality collided and I barely knew the difference. (I guess not much has changed there for me…).
Based on my experience working with boys at summer camp for two summers in 2000 and 2001, then two summers teaching in Thailand in 2003 and 2004, something I learned was that pretty much all little boys are goofy in their own creative ways.
They are confident in being ridiculously weird, random, and off the wall. If their clothes don’t match or they get a funny haircut like a mohawk, it’s considered “cute.”
This concept easily shows up in my nine month old son. Pretty much everything he does is hilarious. I’m so thankful for ” the necktie picture” we have of him. Because even though he sort of has a serious look on his face, he’s wearing only a pastel colored necktie and a diaper. It’s like he’s trying to be as sophisticated as he can, but ultimately, he’s like, “Joke’s on you, people”.
He may live in his own little world, but I like to visit that weird planet of his any chance I get.
It’s a big, dangerous world out there and it’s my job to keep this little bambino safe. But I must channel my fears into positive, rational energy.
There is plenty of truth in the stereotype that parents are over-protective with their first child. I know, because I’m living it right now. Subconsciously, I preview every potentially dangerous situation for Jack; no matter how improbable.
I am Jack’s protector- I can not let anything bad happen to him. Like Bruce Banner (the Incredible Hulk), I can instantly turn into the biggest beast of a monster in an effort to protect him. So while I am an average-looking, mild-mannered man, all it takes is Jack being in potential danger for me to transform into a potential killing machine.
But what is most relevant is that I prepare for Jack’s safety in every situation. So that I never have to rescue or save him. Being over-protective means preventing dangerous situations; not just worrying about them happening all the time.
For my 10th birthday on April 20th, 1991, my parents bought me exactly what I wanted the most: Bible Adventures, the Nintendo game. (Yes, it actually existed!) The game was modeled after my favorite video game ever, Super Mario Bros. 2, in that you could carry items above your head and throw them at enemies.
The most interesting (and disturbing!) thing in Bible Adventures was that if you played as Moses’ sister Miriam, you held baby Moses over your head and for some unexplainable reason, if you pressed the B button, you would throw the infant Moses onto the ground…
Miraculously, he would never be injured; whether you tossed him onto the hard concrete sidewalk, on top of a giant mutant spider, directly into a guard throwing spears, or into the river. But I was a 10 year-old boy, so I didn’t let the physical practicality or the Biblical incorrectness of the game bother me too much. But I did have a lot of fun repeatedly throwing baby Moses onto the sidewalk and watching him bounce, cry for a second, then instantly start smiling again. Needless to say, Bible Adventures did not receive the Nintendo Seal of Approval.
Since the day Jack was born, I have always been fearful that I will drop him; knowing that unlike the invincible Nintendo version of baby Moses, my son would not simply bounce and smile afterwards. So now that he is beginning to crawl, it means I carry him around less. Which means I worry less about dropping him, and more about him getting into all kinds of other troubles.
With good reason, I worry about him drowning, being run over by a car, getting electrocuted, choking, falling, getting attacked by a dog, or maybe even getting swooped up by a long-lost pterodactyl. It even scares me to type my fears aloud, even if the last one was a joke.
I am the Papa Bear. I will do whatever it takes to protect Mama Bear and Baby Bear. Don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.