Everything I needed to know about divorced parenting I learned from Pulp Fiction. And it has nothing to do with proper use of ball gags or the advantages of keeping an EpiPen handy. (Although all that knowledge was helpful in other areas of life.) A decade before my separation, the movie proved very useful in teaching me what not to do should I ever become a single dad. Or so I thought.
I’d gone to see Pulp Fiction in my local Cineplex after it had become the “it’ film, and right before it started, a middle-aged man walked in with a girl who couldn’t have been more than nine or 10. They quickly disappeared in the front of the crowded theater, and I assumed that they were divorced father and daughter. He was clearly trying to be “the cool dad” by bringing her to an adult movie.
I forgot about them until I was heading out and noticed the girl sobbing by the exit door. Her frustrated father just kept saying, “Honey! It was only a movie! Those weren’t real brains on the windshield…” His plan to impress his daughter by letting her do “adult stuff “had gone horribly wrong, and no trip for milkshakes afterward could allow her to un-see the darkness that was Pulp Fiction.
Upon observing all this, I silently vowed that should I ever divorce, I’d never be the kind of Disneyland Dad who assuaged his marital guilt by pretending his kids were older and wiser than they actually were. And then…it all completely flip-flopped on me. My kids grew up. I did get divorced. My son was ready to move across the country for college. And I had to realize that my over-protective philosophy had perhaps done him more harm than good.
I’ve always been envious of people who used the phrase “Well, as my dad always used to say…” because I never felt like I’d said or done anything my boy would remember. I’d been so consumed with making his life seemed plain and normal after mommy and daddy split up, I’d never really shared any practical advice for his future. I just kept trying to make everything to seem all right.
As I prepared to send him off to live his own life, though, I could tell it is was finally time to gift him some words of wisdom. This would be a) cheaper than buying him a new car as a graduation gift; and b) hopefully stick with him the rest of his life. I wanted to teach him what every parent wants to teach their kids: follow your heart and pursue your dreams no matter what anyone says. I just didn’t want to do it in a way that would sound like a dad teaching his son to follow his heart. And that includes divorce.
This is where The Can’t-idates comes in. I’ve always had a fascination with regular people who decide they want to run for president. Every four years, hundreds of Americans attempt a task that will make them seem crazy, cost them all their savings and end up in complete failure. Who willingly steps into something like that? So, on a lark, I decided to find the answer by asking them.
On March 1, a year before 2016’s Super Tuesday primaries, I sent letters to all 193 people who had filed the proper campaign paperwork with the Federal Election Commission. I heard back from more than 100 and eventually found 15 people with incredibly personal reasons for trying to be Commander in Chief. So, three weeks before my son was going to graduate from high school, I traveled 10,000 miles to meet these people and write a book about the experience.
I did worry that it might seem incredibly selfish to go off on this journey just as my boy was preparing to take that major step into adulthood. That’s part of the divorce hangover, always feeling like a self-absorbed dick around your kids because you separated yourself from them. At least to a degree. Then, somewhere between the Boise biker who claimed God told him he’d be president and a veteran candidate who’d legally changed his name to Vermin Supreme, it hit me. I had to hit the road because of my divorce and my son.
These citizen candidates wanted to find fulfillment campaigning for president. I wanted to find fulfillment writing a book about them campaigning for president. We were both exhibiting the very sort of independent spirit I hoped my son would eventually develop. So rather than simply tell him to follow his passion even when people insist he can’t, what better graduation gift than actually showing him how to do it? He probably would have preferred the immediacy of cash, but a book about people going after their dreams written by a guy who dreams of being an author probably has a longer shelf life.
And that’s how The Can’t-idates: Running For President When Nobody Knows Your Name found its true purpose. This is more than my first book. It’s also my attempt to finally teach my son something important about how to conduct himself in an adult world. As well as a way for me to guide him into that future rather than feeling guilty about the shortchanging him in our past.
Then again, I suppose it could just be my way of paying for his college tuition. So I suppose I should present this not as buying a book to keep me out of debt. Think of it as a reasonably priced contribution to helping my son realize his full potential.
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