Daddy’s Home is a memoir that covers 10 years of marriage and fatherhood. The story below is an excerpt. Click to order Daddy’s Home. I guarantee you’ll laugh out loud.
November 20, 2002 A lot has happened over the last year. Eve has met her sister, Adrianne—my 10-year-old daughter from a previous relationship—and the meeting went pretty much as I expected. Adrianne tried to hold her little sister. Eve cried bloody murder. Adrianne handed the kid back to LaVeta.
That brings me to the second thing that’s happened since 2001. Eve has learned to use LaVeta’s last nerve as a trampoline. Having seen my wife seriously consider locking Eve in the bathroom to escape the constant crying, I know we can’t survive another minute in our tiny apartment.
Just in the nick of time, a relative who is going away decides to give us his house.
When we bring a contractor in for a look at our new digs, he surveys the damaged baseboards, looks at the peeling paint, checks out the grimy carpets, and turns to us with a troubling question.
“Was this house abandoned?”
Uhhh … no.
We begin our home restoration project by tossing old furniture, ripping up carpets, and cleaning the place. Contractors hammer, drill and paint. We have track lighting installed and redo the hardwood floors. The whole thing costs about five grand.
LaVeta does what she can to lighten the financial load. In fact, she’s so intent on doing her part that she violates a few rules along the way.
What do I mean? Well, to be quite honest, where we come from, there are a few things you just don’t do. You don’t disrespect your mother. You don’t try to hustle a hustler, and never, under any circumstances, do you wear bobos.
What are bobos, you ask?
Simply put, bobos are extremely cheap sneakers. Dollar ninety-nine cheap. Back in the day, they were the kind of sneakers you could buy from a wire mesh container next to the checkout counter at Pantry Pride. You know, white canvas, hard yellow rubber, dried brown glue oozing from the sides.
When I was growing up, if your mom bought you bobos instead of Jack Purcells or Pro-Keds, you prayed they weren’t the kind with the conspicuous red or blue stripe running around the side. If they were (and God was especially merciful), your mom scraped up another $1.99 before the rubber began to crack.
When you got your new bobos, you threw the old ones up on the wire at the end of the block. Then you tried your best to wear out the new ones quickly, hoping your mom would get the message and buy you something better next time.
Long and short of it, bobos are bad news, and everyone from my generation knows it.
So when I came home last week and my wife, LaVeta, said, “Honey, I got some new sneakers,” I was expecting something along the lines of Nike Airs.
But when she removed them from the box, they were something else altogether. White leather with red stripes, rubber that was white instead of yellow, an intricate logo on the top. There was no denying it. Neither the quality of the material nor the fancy logo could hide the horrible truth.
“They’re not bobos!” LaVeta said defensively.
Oh, but they were. They were manufactured by some company called the Beverly Hills Polo Club. I don’t know what that means in Beverly Hills, but in Philadelphia, it means they’re bobos.
I looked down at the sneakers and smiled. Then I reached over and picked up our 1-year-old daughter, Eve. “Mommy’s got bobos,” I said sadly.
Eve said, “Da da.”
Then she looked down at the sneakers, glanced at me and smiled at her mother. She didn’t get it. At least not yet.
“I was trying to save us some money,” my wife said earnestly.
That’s when I knew my wife loved me. You would have to love someone to wear bobos for the greater good. Granted, I’m the sole breadwinner—we decided that my wife would stay at home and take care of our daughter—but I would never have asked her to do anything that drastic for the sake of our financial life.
And to tell you the truth, I couldn’t understand why a summa cum laude college graduate, a woman who likes the finer things in life, a woman who I thought understood the cultural nuances of being black and in your mid-30s, would buy a pair of bobos.
As she started to explain that they were not, in fact, bobos, I began to imagine the various whispered insults we’d have to endure.
“Sol,” her cousin Dana would say. “What’s with LaVeta’s sneakers? You need a couple dollars?”
The people at our church would take up a collection. My mother would pretend not to notice. The neighbors would sit on their steps speaking in hushed tones.
But the worst thing of all would be the song. Yes, the history of bobos is so storied that there’s a song about them. It goes something like this:
Bobos, they make your feet feel fiiiiiine.
Bobos, they cost a dollar ninety-niiiiiine.
Come get your bobos
Come get your bobos, your bobos, todaaay.
I couldn’t let LaVeta keep them, so with the bobos refrain still reverberating in my head, I began to plot the bobos’ disappearance. I would throw them in the trash. I would burn them in a bonfire.
But then, just as my evil scheme was beginning to take shape, she dropped the bombshell. “As a matter of fact,” LaVeta said triumphantly, “I bought two pairs.”
I looked down at the cloth sneakers she pulled from another box, and as my face crumpled in disbelief, the truth, in all its ugliness, burst from my lips.
“You bought two pairs of bobos?” I asked incredulously.
Then our daughter, with all the wisdom she’d gained over the first year of her life, looked at me, pointed down at the sneakers and, in the sheepish voice of a child pronouncing a new phrase for the first time, she said it.
“That’s right,” I said with resignation. “Bobos.”
Eve hasn’t stopped looking down at those sneakers and saying “bobos” since.
Frankly, neither have I.
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Steve the tadpole’s death had me stunned. On the surface, I appeared to be normal, but on the inside I was grieving.
One minute I’d be resigned to Steve’s fate. The next I’d be looking at the half water jug, expecting Steve to swim out from beneath a piece of lettuce. Between the anger and the regret, the self-pity and the shame, I was searching for a single answer: Why did Steve have to die?
I began my crime scene investigation by recreating Steve’s final hours. Everything had appeared normal. He was swimming around quickly. He was eating lettuce with abandon. He even seemed to be pooping. Then it hit me. Though everything looked normal to us, things could have been way out of whack, because we had no idea how to care for tadpoles.
“Why didn’t we have any tadpole care instructions?” I asked LaVeta.
“We did. I put the sheet on the refrigerator. Then I put it on top of the refrigerator. Somebody must have moved it.”
She never came right out and accused me. But there were no scuff marks on the kitchen floor, and since I’m the only one other than her who can reach the top of the refrigerator without a chair, the implication was clear. She believed I’d disposed of the tadpole care instructions.
Oh sure, it was possible that I had moved the paper in question. I routinely dispose of stuff when things get a little too junky. But this time it wasn’t me. If I’d seen the word “tadpole” on a sheet of paper I would have left it there, along with the yellowing homework assignments and pre-school drawings that spend years on refrigerator magnets in our kitchen.
I wasn’t going to argue my innocence, though. Steve the tadpole was dead. There was nothing more we could do for him, so I turned my attention to the lazy one.
“Did we ever name this one?” I asked Eve as we watched the lazy one recline in the water.
“Mommy was calling it Samantha.”
“How do we know it’s a girl?” I asked.
“Tell you what. Let’s just call it Sam for short. That way we can’t go wrong.”
Eve agreed, and then, at my insistence, the family sprung into action.
Eve and Little Solomon put lettuce in Sam’s water. LaVeta checked on Sam a little more often. I went online and Googled “tadpole care.”
What I found on Google confirmed what I knew all along. We were all complicit in Steve’s untimely death. In fact, if we’d been tried before a jury of fellow pet owners, we would’ve all been convicted of tadpole-cide. Why? Because we didn’t read the directions, and that in itself was murderous.
Armed with accurate care instructions, I made Little Solomon go outside and find me a stick. Then we piled the stick and some rocks in the half water jug so Sam could crawl out at will. Finally, we put Sam’s new tadpole-friendly habitat outside under some shade.
For a few days everything was fine. I went to work, came home, checked on Sam, and found him (or her) swimming happily. Then it rained. The water in Sam’s home got murky. It rose to dangerous levels.
To her credit, LaVeta brought Sam into the house when it threatened to rain again. The day after she did that, Sam died.
Shortly after Sam’s death, my wife and kids flushed Sam down the toilet in a secret ceremony. For a couple days, no one mentioned Sam’s name. When finally I asked about him (or her), I already knew the answer.
“We didn’t want to tell you,” LaVeta said soberly. “We knew you’d take it hard.”
I nodded and turned away slowly as I remembered Sam’s ugly little tadpole face. But this time I didn’t feel the same sense of guilt I’d felt with Steve. I’d gone to the wall for Sam. He (or she) just didn’t make it.
There won’t be anymore tadpoles in the Jones household. Next time, they’ll get Zhu Zhu pets, because batteries can bring them back to life.
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Happy July 4th! At least I hope it’s happy for you. For me, it’s a difficult time. Not because I’m suffering from broke dad syndrome. Not because it’s hell-hot outside. Not even because I’m paying for cable and there’s never anything on TV. No. It’s a difficult time because this is the first holiday we’ve celebrated since Steve the tadpole died.
In fact, if I’m going to be honest about it, I have to say what really happened … Steve didn’t just die. He was murdered. And I was an accessory to the crime.
It all started when I broke my no-pet rule and allowed Eve to bring two tadpoles home from school. I figured I wasn’t taking a huge risk. It wasn’t like they were dogs and I’d have to wield a pooper scooper. But as animals that had to be fed and cared for, they still qualified as pets, and that meant I had to lay down the law. Eve could get the tadpoles, but she and Little Solomon would have to care for them. I would not be lifting a finger.
Soon after making that bold pronouncement, I was not merely lifting one finger. I was lifting all of them. LaVeta and I provided the tadpoles with a Dixie cup apartment, upgraded them to a water jug condo, and were genuinely concerned when Eve, in a bungled attempt to change the water, chopped off the lazy one’s tail. Believe it or not, those were the good days; the days when Steve was still alive. But the good days didn’t last. They never do.
My first indication of trouble was when I accompanied Eve’s class on a field trip a couple weeks before the end of the school year. I overheard one of the other tadpole parents say that her tadpoles were developing legs. She’d placed a stick in the water so that the tadpoles could climb out. Having heard that, I should have immediately done the same for Steve and the lazy one. But I was too busy wondering why her tadpoles had legs and ours didn’t. Were our tadpoles defective? Were they developmentally challenged? Would we have to get them therapy? Or worse, would we have to hire a growth coach to help them think and grow legs?
As I considered those questions, I began calculating the cost of tadpole therapists. The price tag would run into the thousands. How would I pay? And what if the therapy didn’t work? Would I have to slip them tadpole steroids? And what if that failed? What if I had to release them into the wild without legs? They’d never be able to defend themselves against tadpole bullies. They’d be massacred.
Unfortunately, the tadpoles’ lack of legs had me so preoccupied that I never put the stick in the water so they could get out. That made no difference to Steve. He was feisty. In the time I was stressing, he not only grew legs. He grew arms, too. By the time I thought about the stick again, it didn’t matter anymore. Steve was belly up, his black tadpole complexion a deathly gray. There was no mistaking it. Steve was dead.
I did the only thing I could think of. I blamed the kids.
“When I let you have these tadpoles, what did I say you had to do?” I asked in my stern daddy voice.
“You said we had to take care of them,” Eve mumbled while Little Solomon stood by, trying not to look at Steve’s remains.
“But you didn’t take care of them,” I said with furrowed brow. “Now Steve is dead.”
My remarks were met with guilty silence, so I moved on to step two. I made them watch while I flushed Steve down the toilet. Then, in a final attempt to make the guilt set in, I made the kids go upstairs to think about their murderous ways. I hoped that would result in better care for the remaining tadpole. Sadly, it did not.
Next time on the tadpole conspiracy, we’ll reveal the fate of the lazy one. Here’s a hint. It’s not much better than Steve’s.
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June 1, 2011 I am at this very moment watching my wife transfer the tadpoles—Steve and the lazy one—from their Dixie cup digs to a much more spacious plastic water bottle.
Why is my wife doing the transfer after we demanded that Eve do all the caretaking? The answer is simple. We let Eve do it, and she almost killed them.
It happened during one of the periodic water changes that are necessary when you’re raising tadpoles in captivity. In order to change the water, the tadpoles have to be transferred out of the dirty water and into the clean water. Eve did so using a tablespoon-sized metal measuring cup, and she accidentally chopped off half of the lazy one’s tail.
It was gory. It was brutal. It was dramatic. We thought the lazy one was dead. But when we began tapping the Dixie cup (sort of like the dentist’s evil niece in Finding Nemo – yes, I’ve been a dad so long that I use kids’ movies as points of reference) the lazy one moved a little. That’s why he didn’t get flushed down the toilet.
Actually, there was another reason we didn’t flush him. Eve cried when she thought that she might have actually killed the lazy one, so even if he was dead, we probably would have pretended we could resuscitate him. I was considering a prayer vigil, maybe some candles and some chants, but LaVeta thought I was taking things too far.
Anyway, the lazy one is alive, Steve is starting to grow little leg buds, and I am being sucked into this frog thing like a dust bunny into a Hoover. I actually watched from across the room as my wife changed the water a few minutes ago. When she said Steve was growing legs, I did the unthinkable. I got up and looked over her shoulder.
I’m getting caught up in this pet thing, and I don’t like it.
I now understand what happens with these dog nuts who get sucked into taking Fido to dental appointments and spa treatments. Pet ownership changes you. It warps your values. It maims your soul. I see it happening to me, and I don’t know how to stop it.
Why, just a few minutes ago I found myself saying to my wife, “Do you think we need to add more water? You know Steve is used to swimming up to the top of the Dixie cup.”
When I realized what I had said I gasped and covered my mouth. I was afraid that I might be losing my mind. Or worse, I might be possessed by some evil, frog-loving demon. Never in my life did I believe that I would care about tadpoles, much less offer to make their lives more comfortable. Yet there I was, offering creature comforts to the little buggers.
Perhaps I did it because of the scare we had with the lazy one. Maybe I did it because they’re guests in my home and I’m into hospitality. Maybe I did it because I’m a sap. Whatever the reason, when I offered to add water to their little makeshift habitat, I crossed an invisible line, and I don’t know if I can step back now.
The crazy part is that the kids are stepping back from their emotional attachment to the tadpoles. Other than occasionally looking at them to see if they’re still alive, both Eve and Little Solomon are extremely detached.
“I thought the lazy one was dead,” Eve said without an ounce of remorse, as Little Solomon watched TV and ate water ice. “I’m glad he’s alive, but if he wasn’t it wouldn’t be a big deal.”
I didn’t know if she was trying to be nonchalant to cover the true depths of her emotions. After all, she’d cried at the thought of him dying just days before. But as I watched her from across the room and tried to figure out what she was thinking, I thanked God Eve has never had to change my water.
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May 28, 2011 I’ve had a longstanding rule for my kids: No pets. It’s not because my dog Rusty ran away when I was a kid. It’s not because I’m against dog fur in the carpet or funk in the litter box. And for the PETA members who are painting themselves with tiger stripes to sit naked in a cage outside my house, it’s not because I’m anti-animal.
I’ve never allowed pets for one simple reason. I don’t want to be stuck taking care of them. This might sound selfish, and in truth, it probably is. But for my kids, the choice has always been clear. Daddy can write books and work a job to pay for private school and a house on a relatively quiet block, or Daddy can spend his time caring for Scruffy, and we can live in the ‘hood. My kids have always chosen the former.
But last week, everything changed. Thanks to a school-based conspiracy, my kids snookered me into accepting not one, but two pets into our home. To make matters worse, the pets were tadpoles.
Tadpoles, for those who’ve never watched the Discovery Channel, are baby frogs. They look like—and I’m using this description because it really is the only one that fits—black sperm.
Sound charming? No? I didn’t think so either. So why did I let them into my home? Well, it all started when my daughter, Eve, presented my wife, LaVeta, with a note from school.
“Dear parents,” it said. “A bucket full of tadpoles has been donated to our third grade class. We are excited to see how they change and grow over the next several weeks. Now, here’s the really exciting part … With your permission your child may bring home two tadpoles. All you need to do is fill out, sign and return the slip at the bottom of this page.”
As the parent with primary responsibility for dealing with school stuff, LaVeta instantly knew what she had to do. “Ask your father,” she said.
Way to pass the buck, babe …
That evening when I got home, Eve and Little Solomon were sitting at the kitchen counter wearing pitiful expressions that said, “We want something we aren’t likely to get, but if we look sad enough, you just might give in.”
Feeling as if I’d walked into an ambush, I decided to play it straight. “How’s everybody?” I asked. They said they were fine, but I knew they weren’t.
As the tension mounted, LaVeta pulled me aside and warned me about the tadpole question. My face went completely white. If you’ve seen my face, you know that’s nearly impossible.
The minutes ticked by and Eve remained silent, so I decided to broach the subject myself. “I hear you want to ask me something,” I said.
“Yes, my school is giving away tadpoles, but we need our parents’ permission,” Eve said, then quickly added, “we’re going to let them go once they grow up.”
It was a brilliant ruse. Let us get the tadpoles and we’ll release them into the wild … Yeah, right.
I told her I had to think about it, but I already knew I’d have to relent. Eve had always wanted a pet, despite her mother’s cautionary tales about her childhood pet hamster, Hervie, who died suddenly. Little Solomon wanted one, too. Just a week before he’d convinced me to walk through a PetSmart store. LaVeta likes those little lap dogs, and I was guessing she viewed the tadpoles as the next best thing.
Me? I know how the pet story turns out. Dad gets stuck with the responsibility. It’s bad enough walking a dog. But a frog? I’m sorry. I can’t be seen on the block with Kermit on a leash. That’s where I draw the line.
Still, I couldn’t disappoint my family, so I decided to do what was best for everyone.
“Okay Eve, you can have the tadpoles,” I said after a tension-filled half hour of waiting. “But you have to take care of them, and you have to share them with your brother. I will not be lifting a finger to feed them, and when they grow up, you have to let them go.”
She agreed to the terms of my pet pact, much to Little Solomon’s delight, and for the past week, things have been working pretty well. My son named one of them Steve. The other tadpole is affectionately called the lazy one. Steve and the lazy one have the best of everything—a clean Dixie cup and spring water straight from the WalMart collection, boiled strips of romaine lettuce to munch on, and a future in which they’ll live with their friends in the wild. At least that’s the way it’s supposed to go. Things are starting to change, though. When I asked LaVeta about it, I began to see the cracks in the tadpole liberation plan.
“I try not to think about it,” LaVeta said when I asked her how she’d feel letting the tadpoles go. “I see them swimming in the Dixie cup out of the corner of my eye and try not to think about it. I’ll try not to cry.”
For now, Eve is changing their water and feeding them regularly. But it’s like Little Solomon told us about his pet philosophy. “I want a dog,” he said with all the honesty in his 6-year-old heart. “I just don’t want to clean up the poop.”
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May 15, 2011 The beautiful thing about marriage is that after a while, you can communicate without saying a word. The ugly thing about it is that the communication happens whether you want it to or not.
This is especially true for married couples with small children. I know this because my wife and I are able to communicate using everything from Morse code to smoke signals. This kind of communication enables us to change the radio station in the car before our kids hear the first seductive moan on a Donna Summer oldie. It enables us to change the TV station before our kids can decipher the real meaning of most ED commercials. It allows us to read each other’s minds despite our best efforts to hide our thoughts.
This phenomenon was never more evident than it was the other day, when I told my wife I was going to start blogging.
Before I tell you how she responded, you have to understand that for married forty-somethings, a blogger is some dude in raggedy boxers who steals his neighbors’ internet signal while living and working in his parents’ basement. He bathes biweekly and doesn’t talk to actual people, except to grunt a mumbled “thanks” when his mother slides his dinner under the door. He does not, under any circumstances, make any money, but he’s got 10,000 followers on Twitter, and that’s good enough for him.
Don’t misunderstand me. It’s okay to be that guy when you’re 25 and your parents are willing to support you. But when you’ve got a wife, a mortgage, bills, and kids who won’t quit eating, you can’t be sitting around in your drawers pecking out nonsense on your laptop and scratching. It’s just not cool—especially if you’re not getting paid.
That’s why I knew, even before I told LaVeta about my plan to start blogging, that she would not approve. In fact, in the days before I told her of my plans, I played the whole scene out in my mind. It went something like this.
“LaVeta, I’m going to start blogging.”
“Blogging?! Are you out of your mind? Do they pay you for that?”
“That’s what I thought. You will not be blogging while I’m slaving to take care of these kids!”
“You’ve got five seconds to get off that laptop and go to work!”
“Five, four, three …”
Fortunately, LaVeta didn’t say any of those things in real life. Instead, she used my own words against me. The real conversation went something like this.
“LaVeta, I think I’m going to start blogging.”
“You told me you were against blogging,” she said with a hint of righteous indignation. “You said you wanted to get paid.”
“I am going to get paid,” I said defensively. “Next month, when I publish my e-book, people who’ve read the blog and the Essence piece will buy it. The blog is an investment in the book.”
“Ummm hmmm,” she said. Those two syllables were packed with meaning. They said, “We’ve got bills to pay.” They said, “I don’t want to hear that ‘investment’ junk.” They said, “Get a real writing job and stop acting like you live in your mama’s basement.”
Instead of responding to her unspoken disdain for the blogging idea, I decided to try to make her a part of it. You know, give her some ownership of the whole thing—even though owning part of my no-pay blog is pretty much worthless.
“Do you, uh … have any ideas for the blog?” I asked. The question was rhetorical. I knew she had ideas for the blog. She always has ideas. For years she’d fed me subjects for my books and columns. Three words from LaVeta, and I could make it into a masterpiece. That was for paid stuff, though. This? This was another one of my hare-brained schemes, and LaVeta wasn’t having it.
“I don’t have any ideas right now,” she said. Translation: “I have ideas, but if there’s no money on the other side, I’d just as well keep my ideas to myself.”
I got angry. I told her she wouldn’t have to be bothered with my stupid little blog. I told her I’d come up with my own ideas. I told her I’d keep her out of it. I lied.
The idea for this, my very first free blog, is courtesy of my wife LaVeta. It’s just too bad neither one of us is getting paid … yet.