The Mentor I Can’t Escape

24 July 2012 by Conor Published in: Family Life 42 comments

I heard once that kids benefit from shoving dirt in their mouths and I sure hope that’s true, because if it is my fifteen month old daughter is going to have the immune system of a Viking.

I also read that kids who live with dogs (though hopefully not only with dogs) have stronger immune systems than those without pets. Even better! Every piece of food that touches the ground in my house – let’s ballpark it at thirty percent – is immediately leapt upon by about a thousand stray dog hairs. You ever try cleaning dog hair off a piece of pineapple? You could rub that thing against the sun, that dog hair ain’t comin’ off. I don’t know what God put in pineapple but you’d think they’d be using it as an epoxy for the next generation of Space Shuttles.

I know I’m not alone in my adherence to the five second rule because I was taking Lucy to get bagels one morning and I saw a man with his young twin sons, both around Lucy’s age. Food would hit the floor and he would scoop it up and blow on it, which is about as effective as blowing on dice, and plop it right back in front of his kids who would shove it into their mouths.

He saw me looking at him, this father, and he smiled at me – the friendly smile that dads give each other. Dads tend to be proud of taking care of their kids all by themselves. It’s a pride I haven’t felt since I was eleven years old and I would casually wander into the living room where my parents’ friends were gathered holding all my soccer trophies, pretending I didn’t know anyone was there.

In LA, you see dads out with kids all the time. Part of that might be because we’re near Hollywood and the percentage of gay dads is exponentially higher than it was in our town of New Canaan, Connecticut. But it’s not just that. It’s also that more men have nontraditional jobs that allow them to be home with their kids.

It’s pretty cool, actually. I love New Canaan, don’t get me wrong, but when we lived there I often picked up Finn from his preschool, and when the teacher opened the door to let in the parents she would gleefully declare “Here come the mommies!” in a happy voice until she saw me amongst the ladies and the “mommies” would be cut off in an awkward throat-clearing so it would sound like “Here come the mom-AHHCHK.”

In this regard, at least, I feel more at home in LA than in the north east. (Though I do wish everybody in LA would just cool it with the whole fashion thing and give me a chance to catch up a bit.)

I love having spent so much time with my kids over the past three years, since Finn was born. It’s one of those things that I am sure that Elderly Conor would be proud of.

You wouldn’t know Elderly Conor, but he’s something of a mentor to me, crotchety old man that he is. I check in with him frequently, trying to figure out if I’m making the right decisions with my life, mostly about what direction to take. We have to keep remembering that as we make these big life decisions, the grass remains, uncannily, greener on the other side, which makes it all the more difficult.

In those times when I get caught believing my life is on one single track, a career track that I need to stay on to make more money and take better care of my family, Elderly Conor chimes in.

“One track? Ridiculous!” Elderly Conor mutters. “What are you, building the Pyramids? You’ve got choices, dummy! You’ve got degrees and a wife that loves adventure! One track? You sound like a chimp! And not one of those clever ones, either!”

Elderly Conor also tells me what to worry about and what I can ignore.

“Don’t you dare start watching The Bachelorette,” he’ll rasp invisibly in my ear. “Don’t you dare. It’s, what, four hours a week? And for what? So you can yell at the TV?”

I’ll argue that Liz and I have fun watching reality TV together.

“So watch the Glee Project!” he shouts, as much as he can shout. “Wholesome stuff! You wanna make it to my age, you’ll stay away from those Bachelors and Real Housewives.”

I argue with Elderly Conor, of course, because who does he think he is? But in my quiet moments, when he’s passed out in a chair with a book of poetry in his hand (I like to think that elderly me will adore poetry), I know he’s right. And there’s no use protesting that I don’t watch Real Housewives, because he knows me too well. He knows that if Real Housewives is on, it’s going straight into my eyeballs.

So instead I’ll watch a good, thoughtful show in the evening, then do some writing.

“Huh!” Elderly Conor will mumble. “Look who’s deciding to use his brain for a change!” But I’ll know he means it lovingly.

The one thing I get kudos from Elderly Conor about (it’s hard to get kudos from him) is that I spend a ton of time with my family. I know my children well, I’m around my wife all the time. I know Elderly Conor also approves of us moving to interesting places like LA even when it stretched our budget like crazy. He likes that we try to budget daily so we can then do special things that will create memories, like driving somewhere awesome and staying overnight on the beach one weekend when Liz’s mom has the kids.

“Live simply, because trust me, you’re never going to remember ordering forty bucks worth of sushi on a Tuesday night,” he’ll say. “But you will remember staying at a hotel on the beach with your wife while the kids are with Grandma Susie. And that’s about all we have at the end, those memories. Make ‘em!”

And then he’ll have a coughing fit during which he’ll choke out some joke about chain smoking or something which I’ll laugh at because let’s face it, even at that age, he’s still got it.

So I know that I have to trust Elderly Conor, even though he’s old and boring and seems like a completely different person.

Then again, I’m not even sure he’s really reading that poetry book – I think he just does it to show off.

So maybe we have more in common than I think.


  1. Richard Mitchell
    Tue 24th Jul 2012 at 10:27 am

    Conor- very much enjoyed this one. As IO get closer and closer to merging with Elderly Richard and my kids are now self sufficient semi-sentient beings, the memories are clearly the greatest treasure accumulated along the way. By the way this time Friday we will be in Galway again- going to Ireland for my nephew’s Bar Mitzvah- traditional location for such things I know. Richard

  2. Conor
    Tue 24th Jul 2012 at 10:32 am

    Galway is packed with Bar Mitzvahs this time of year.

    We miss the Mitchell family! Let us know if you’re ever out in LA!


    • Richard Mitchell  –  Tue 24th Jul 2012 at 10:37 am

      We will be in California a lot now as both our boys just moved to Oakland. LA maybe not so much. Holler if you (or Liz) are coming back to the ATL.

  3. Tue 24th Jul 2012 at 10:33 am

    Hi Conor! I like your work. About a month ago, I finished The Little Princes. It was very well written, filled with humor, love and compassion. ( You had a little practice of kids jumping on you to prepare you for fatherhood, right? (I think you planned it that way!! By the way, I believe that you did get married before any of those kids……!) I’m so glad that you and Liz were married. Have a wonderful life together. Dance on bubble wrap. (If you sent some of that to Nepal, the kids would make some cool memories!!! They’ll thank you later!!) Thank you for what you do. Are you working on another book?

    • Conor  –  Tue 24th Jul 2012 at 2:11 pm

      Thanks so much Jan! And another book, hopefully – I enjoy writing and would love to do it.

  4. Tue 24th Jul 2012 at 10:52 am

    Please let us know when you are out this way. Thanks. (I accidently printed two comments. Sorry.)

    • Jan Sharpless Ferrian  –  Tue 24th Jul 2012 at 11:18 am

      We live in Maine.

  5. Marcy Prager
    Tue 24th Jul 2012 at 11:20 am

    Once again, your words ring true with the important things to remember – living life to its fullest with your family – being a hands-on dad, letting your children play in dirt…
    And you’re right…You can’t take dog hair or cat hair off of pineapple! Live free…live right!

    • Conor  –  Tue 24th Jul 2012 at 2:12 pm

      I’m allergic to cat hair – those would be like little allergy bombs all around the house. Gotta count my blessings, I guess!

  6. Beth
    Tue 24th Jul 2012 at 1:08 pm

    Great piece! Love the image of you carrying all your soccer trophies into the living room when company was visiting–thanks for the chuckle! It’s so unfair that dads out in public can smile at each other after one of them has just fed his child food off the floor. That would never fly with judgy moms!

    • Conor  –  Tue 24th Jul 2012 at 2:12 pm

      Men can only imagine how badly we’re screwing up our kids – I think it garners more sympathy!

  7. Renee
    Wed 25th Jul 2012 at 6:03 am

    Great blog Conor!
    Moms are generally hard on themselves and each other. We are perhaps expected to know what to do at any given time when it comes to our children. Does anyone really have all the answers? I’ve been a mother for 15 years. I’ve discovered that kids love to keep you on your toes. On another note, I love seeing dads with their children. The dads I know have a more care-free parenting style. It’s beautiful. Kudos to you!

    • Conor  –  Wed 01st Aug 2012 at 11:19 am

      We learned early on that the best advice we would ever receive is to not pay too much attention to other parents’ advice – kids are just too different!

  8. Cat
    Thu 26th Jul 2012 at 7:44 am

    Great post, Conor. Words to live by (and laugh by).

    • Conor  –  Wed 01st Aug 2012 at 11:19 am

      Thanks Cat!

  9. Wed 01st Aug 2012 at 10:54 am

    You move to LA for a few months and you already have voices talking to you?!?!

    I’m right there with you living a weird life. We recently downgraded to one car. We’re both home all day, so why do we need two cars for. Watching people lose a lot of things over the last few years has made us value them so much less.

    I stopped working early the other day and we went swimming. Today, we slept in and grabbed lunch. But on Friday I leave for a month away from the family. Freedom comes with a price.

    Great piece. Tell Elderly Conor to keep cracking that whip!

    • Conor  –  Wed 01st Aug 2012 at 11:20 am

      Can’t wait to read about your travels, amigo!

  10. Claire Deyton
    Sat 16th Feb 2013 at 4:51 pm

    Hello , I got your book for my 14th bday last week . It took one weekend to read the whole thing . I couldn’t put it down . I was feeling sorry for myself because are family had just lost are home due to mom getting cancer and couldn’t work and my dad taking time off to care for her. While sitting in the hotel room with my three brother going stir crazy from being in a small room. I started reading your book out load they sat for hours `listening to very word . They loved hearing the stories of the boys in Little Princes and we cried when the seven kids was lost . Thank you for sharing your story and show us how lucky we are . We are now in home and look for a way to make the world a better place.

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  13. Margaret Grundy
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