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Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group

Your Dad Stole My Rake

And Other Family Dilemmas

Tom Papa

St. Martin's Press



I want to thank you for reading the introduction to this book. I know you’d prefer to jump right into it, so good for you. Good reading. I’m hoping it’s just as funny as the rest of the book and I’m feeling pretty good about our chances, so here we go.

In many ways this book is mostly about you. I’m not sure if we’ve met. I’m Tom, but even if we haven’t, I want you to know that I’ve really been thinking a lot about you and I have to say, you’re doing great.

I mean it. Everyone feels like they should be doing more with their lives, that they’re not good enough or skinny enough, smart, rich, or successful enough. I get it, but stop beating yourself up already. You’re doing fine. I’ll go one better and say that you’re peaking right now.

You really are. If you’re living your busy life, dealing with your family, figuring out what to feed them next, and you were still able to find a couple minutes to read this, and enjoy yourself, this is as good as it’s going to get. You’re not stuck under a truck tire, no one needs to throw you a rope from a helicopter. Trust me, you’re killing it.

It’s hard being a person. It really is. Just the physical maintenance of you alone, is endless. Just the brushing, cleaning, and wiping—hopefully every day—of you, is a major project. Throw in the needs of the rest of your family and things get really tricky. So stop beating yourself up. You’re doing great.

This isn’t to say that your life is struggle-free. Everyone has their battles to fight. There may be slight differences in what they are, but no one lives a life without them. There will be sickness, money problems, and clogged toilets, but that’s okay, it’s all part of the package, so don’t be a baby. As my grandmother would say, “Get over yourself!” You do the best you can, try to remember to floss, and have some laughs along the way.

The main source of these laughs is the people around you. Like you, I didn’t choose the people in my family, but I knew from an early age that these people were hilarious. After performing, traveling, and meeting all of you, I’ve learned that your families are hysterical too.

Now, I know you’re busy with all the important stuff you have to do. You have to draft players for your fantasy league, get your toes done before that thing you have to go to, so maybe you don’t have the time to recognize what exactly makes your family so ridiculous. That’s okay, that’s my job. It’s all I do.

That’s why I wrote this book. To point out some of the absurd things that you might have missed and help you realize that you’re not alone. We’re all doing the best we can and that’s truly enough. I hope you enjoy it.

Look at that, you got through the introduction! Nice job. You’re doing great!

moms & dads

My parents are dumb. That’s what we all think at some point in our lives. This is what makes it possible to break away as adults and go out into the world to do our own dumb things, like trips to Vegas, collecting mason jars, and doing shots of tequila with Don from sales. But just because we discover that our parents are mere mortals, doesn’t lessen the impact they have on us or make our relationship with them any easier.

Our parents are the critics of our lives. Whether they’re still living and leaving incomprehensible voice mail messages or they have moved on, finally relieved of their duties, it is their simple offhand remarks about what you were wearing or why you lost the spelling bee that will forever rattle in your head, with more devastating impact than a bad New York Times review on opening night.

Of course, parents don’t realize their power because, from their point of view, no one ever listens to a single, solitary word they say. But children hear everything and the stuff that sticks is the stuff that is said without thinking.

My parents started their family when they were twenty years old. That seems impossible today, considering people in their twenties are lying on airport floors in their pajamas, Snapchatting their lives away. But it really happened. If I had known how young my parents were at the time, I would have responded to any demand that I clean my room with loud, laugh-track laughter, more commonly used on my siblings.

I try to take their age into consideration when I reflect on the insensitive things they said or did while I was growing up, like the early Saturday morning when my father and I were driving along on Route 17. I was twelve, so I was probably rambling on about something important, probably having to do with Eddie Murphy’s Gumby impression on Saturday Night Live or the kid in school who accidentally blew off all his facial hair with a homemade rocket, when my father turned to me and asked, “Are you going to be one of those guys?”

“The kind of guy who blows his face off with a rocket?” I asked.

“No, one of those guys who talks all the time?”

As someone who went on to build a career doing exactly that, you could imagine how insulted I was. I remember thinking, As opposed to what other kind of guy? A guy who sits alone in the den, in silence, watching nature shows and picking pistachios out of his teeth?

Of course I didn’t say any of that, or engage him in any conversation at all, as it only would have helped bolster his point on the whole “talking guy” thing.

But I realize now that he was in his early thirties, having already burned his entire twenties being a family man, and was probably craving just a moment of silence in the car before he pulled into the parking spot of another place he didn’t want to go, in order to do another thing he didn’t want to do.

He shouldn’t have said it, but I get it.

Eventually you go from judging your parents to being judged as a parent yourself. I had my children at an older age and even though I was wiser than I was in my late twenties, I still made major, moronic mistakes. For instance, when I killed my daughter’s pet right in front of her. To be fair, I didn’t know it was a pet, it was a snail she had found five minutes earlier, and I didn’t intentionally kill it. I was happily walking up the driveway to say hello, when I heard something go crunch under my shoe. I tried to fix it but it turns out you can’t scoop a squashed snail into a paper cup and expect it to survive. Not as anything resembling a snail.

While this may seem like a minor event, she is showing no signs of forgetting and continues to bring it up several times a year.

“Remember when dad killed Snaily?” she’ll ask as if she’s bringing up a murder that I am still doing time for. “I do,” she adds.

Not only does she still remember, but I have a sneaking suspicion that this might be the opening to my eulogy.

It was an innocent mistake, with no ill intent, that will permanently be a part of my record. And that’s the rap sheet for every parent. All the smart things you try to say, all the thoughtful lessons you try to impart, are eclipsed by the more memorable dumb moments in between.

So put your resentments aside, give them some respect for keeping you alive, and get through whatever phase of the relationship you’re in, with the comforting knowledge that of course your parents are dumb. We are too.

Copyright © 2018 by Tom Papa