There are no real rules to parenting. Well, there are some very basic rules like you must feed the kids and make sure they don’t look like a hobo catching the rail from Cleveland. But overall, you can parent any way you want.
I have decided to parent like I’m in an action movie.
“Must. Get. The. AHH!” My scream shatters glass. Twilight shards twinkle down on me.
“Dad?” my 5-year-old says.
“Son! Son!” I reach out my hand. “The couch won’t let me go; can’t let me go. No, it’s too late for me. Save yourself, son!”
“Here, Dad,” he says as he hands me the TV remote. And there, just like a good action movie, the story arc is complete.
See, I couldn’t just get up off of the couch to get the remote. Where is the struggle? What did I have to sacrifice? Where is the drama?
Now I have some rules. Action Movie Rules.
Every struggle becomes sequel material
In the sequel to Get Off The Couch, the toy skitters across the hardwood floor. I inch my way forward in an army crawl. What is the toy? Why do I want it so much? What’s at stake?
It’s the toy to stop the mother of all toddler meltdowns.
So I belly crawl. The boy jumps on my back, uses my pants legs as a rope ladder, and tries to gouge out my eyeballs with his thumbs. There is a struggle. Good vs. Evil. Morally ambiguous motives fight righteousness that is confusing and complex. It is a battle that happens one plot point at a time.
Of course, I could just stand up and walk to the toy. But when do you see that in an action movie? No, it’s always the belly crawl when the object (usually the Holy Grail or a detonator) is 20 feet away. That’s Action Movie Rules.
There are thousands of parenting books out there. Oddly, most of them now have the word “fuck” in the title. They have rules, but most are not connected to the real world or are painfully obvious. “Make sure your children eat in the morning!” Well, no shit. A lot of those books give advice that is completely useless like “when traveling by yacht, make sure the toddler is polite to the help.” Who actually parents on a yacht? That’s what the help is for.
Breaking out the ninja moves
“I can’t believe it!” I yell at my daughter in the movie that completes the trilogy. “You betrayed me! My kin. You have gone against the family.”
My teenager stands motionless. Sweat drips off her brow. In her hand, she holds the last of the bean dip. A Frito hovers just over the lip of the can. The confused look on her face at my action movie setup monologue is the only opening I need. Against all hope, I charge.
With a sweet ninja move I saw on the Netflix original Punisher, my hand locks onto her wrist. I use my legs as leverage and twist. The tables have turned! Now, I have the bean dip.
“What the hell was that?” she asks. It’s cool, teenagers are allowed to almost swear in action movies. Just enough to let the viewer know that they are edgy and independent.
“Justice,” I say, and my finger scrapes out the last bit of my prize, forever denying its sweet and chalky taste to the villain.
Everything looks great when it’s choreographed. But in real life, when things go south, the ultimate truth is that no parent knows what they are doing. We are all winging it, and we just edit the stories in post-production.
In action movies, paper-thin metal filing cabinets can stop an AK-47 for some reason. Explosives are so simple that a 10-year-old can rig Nakatomi Tower to blow. Everyone can sprint. And most importantly, if you have a franchise, you can always come back when you are older for a surprise reimagining.
If only Action Movie Rules really ruled
From the top of the stairs I do a badass double flip and somehow don’t over-rotate. Not bad for a mid-40s washed-up action father. Something is wrong, though. Something is off. How do I know? Action Movie Rules: The hero always knows to go with his gut when something feels “off.”
I hear it; a slight click. Without explanation, I run to the living room dodging several glass panes being carried by extras, and a guy pulling a tourist in a rickshaw. Action Movie Rules: Nothing has to make sense.
I must make it to the thermostat. There is no time! I help an orphan on the way, have an emotional connection with him, and now he is my ward.
I see the light spark on my Nest Smart Thermostat. It has gained awareness. Now we are parenting by Sci-Fi Action Movie Rules. That click I heard before was the furnace warming up. If I can make it, if only I can make it, I can stop the evil machine overlord from coming on and warming the house up from 69 to 70. The orphan gets kidnapped. I vow to come back for him.
I strap into my exoskeleton suit and light a blow torch because that makes things look more industrial and gritty. I reach my hand out while a disembodied voice counts down.
I turn the thermostat off, and the furnace shudders. I go back and save the orphan, which turns out was always my 10-year-old son.
“That was close, Dad!” he says.
“Yeah. Too close. But you know what they always say …”
“It’s never close when you believe in yourself, even when the world don’t.”
BOOM! There is my tagline. The bad grammar will connect with the masses, and I’ll go viral.
“You’re the best, Dad!”
“Yes, I am.” My words are slurred because somewhere between the first movie and the remake, I had a stroke. “Now let’s go home so I can have sex with your mom.”