We're pulling up slowly to the drop-off circle in front of the middle school like we do every weekday morning around 7:30 a.m. The coffee, resting in a cup holder, is just waking me up as we inch forward. My daughter is itching to get out, watching the cars around us for the moment she can unlock her seatbelt, sling on her backpack, close the door behind her, and rush across the walkway to join her friends.
"Hey," I say, suddenly. "Have you ever heard 'Mama Said Knock You Out?'"
"What? Dad, I don't—"
"LL Cool J! How have we never listened to that? Here, I'll play it."
"NOOOO! Dad, I gotta go!"
[Ignoring her] "Hey, Siri, play 'Mama Said Knock You Out' by LL Cool J."
Siri responds in its female robot voice, "Playing 'Mama Said Knock You Out' by LL Cool J."
"Dad, no, please."
"This'll just take a second, let me raise the volume on this."
"I have to GO!"
"In the video, LL Cool J is a boxer and he—oh, here we go, DON'T CALL IT A COMEBACK! I BEEN HERE FOR YEARS!"
"I'M ROCKIN' MY PEERS, PUTTIN' SUCKERS IN FEAR!"
Her protests are too late. I'm already lowering the windows pretending that I mispressed the automatic door unlock, the booming cadence of LL Cool J's defiant anthem filling the middle school parking lot. Kids with book bags on their shoulders and phones in their hands at the school entrance turn to look. Parents in other cars stare. I'm bouncing up and down in my seat. My daughter is mortified.
"DAAAAAAD, turn it down!"
"WHEN I DROP THESE LYRICS THAT MAKE YOU CALL THE COPS!"
"Oh my God, I'm leaving. I'm riding the bus from now on."
She blazes out the passenger seat, the music following closely behind and I barely have time to shout, "Byeloveyouhaveagoodday!" before she's out of range.
Not all my mornings are like this, but the really fun ones are.
I'm an embarrassing dad and I make no apologies. Around the time my age began creeping toward 40, I stopped giving a s**t what people who aren't coworkers or family think of me and my daughters have been the beneficiary of my no-shame lifestyle ever since.
When my daughters were toddlers and little girls, of course they worshiped their parents and thought we could do no wrong. Now that they're teens, 13 and 16, mom and dad are almost never right and their sense of self—that the world revolves around them and their needs and wants—need to be put in check.
This can lead to arguments and power struggles, of course. It's a constant challenge to get them to remember that their needs—the rides they need to school and to events, the money they need for clothes and movies with friends, the mess they make around the house and don't feel they need to clean right away—have direct consequences on someone else. Namely me. My time, my money, my energy is spent on them, a lot. And sometimes all that goes unremarked upon, unappreciated.
Related: How to Raise a Literal Superhero
But the currency I do earn—that all dads earn, really—is the right to be a completely embarrassing, out-of-touch dad, one who can make even a school drop off feel like a suspenseful experience. I'm the dad who, when my daughter is having a sleepover with friends at the house, will enter the living room where they're munching popcorn and watching a movie and announce loudly, "There's extra toilet paper in the bathroom closet if anyone needs it!"
I'm the dad who will bust out 20 coupons at the checkout register at the supermarket while my daughters squirm and shield their faces from the public.
I'm the dad who yells my daughter's name loudly when she's playing in the band at football games.
When the first Spider-Verse movie came out, one of my favorite scenes was the one where Miles Morales's dad, Jeff, drops him off at school and uses the police mic to force an "I love you" out of his son. Yes! That is Embarrassing Dad energy at its finest!
Once your kids are teenagers, they sometimes think they're in charge and are working to form their identities and autonomy. Being an embarrassing dad helps reinforce that: It makes them want to get out of the nest and fly even faster, if only to differentiate themselves from dad's OMG PLEASE STOP shenanigans. The now-defunct Netflix series Dad Stop Embarrassing Me!, which starred Jamie Foxx, hits this point on the nose.
There's a limit, of course. Embarrassment shouldn't be abuse. I'd never embarrass them in front of friends or in public in a way where the joke's on them or a way of messing with their self image or esteem. It's about making myself the fool, not them.
This guy gets it:
Being a fool, surprisingly, is a big part of parenting. You'll make mistakes, you'll wonder sometimes if your kids will love you or resent you for every hard decision you make. At some point, you have to put on a little armor and decide it's not about what your kids think of you, it's about doing what's best for them. And sometimes, you get to have a little fun along the way amusing yourself. Maybe they aren't laughing now, in the middle of their very serious teenaged years, but I'm hoping someday they'll wistfully remember how silly their dad could be. Maybe they'll have kids of their own and delight in the same kind of moments.
Dads should exercise their right to play the fool, to be the clown, to make their kids feel they are cooler than dad. That should be in the Dad Bill of Rights: The Right to Embarrass.
Now if you'll excuse me, I need to figure out what song to play loudly in the car when I pick up my kid at the middle school this afternoon.