It’s not that easy to annoy Dustin. He’s a relatively even-tempered man, and he has a sense of humor about most things. Two of my favorite memories of him are the time he put a paper grocery bag over his head (he even cut out eye holes) before coming in the house with a really bad haircut, and the time he pretended a mountainous pile of dirty clothes beside our bed was sucking him into its abyss.
Even when three weeks ago I asked him to get on the roof at midnight to break apart an ice dam, Dustin kept his cool … in between muttering profanities under his breath.
There are, however, a few things for which Dustin has limited tolerance, and many of these weaknesses, if you will, stem from his military upbringing and career.
See, at work people call Dustin “Sir” and they salute him in the hallway. Then, when he comes home, I sometimes call him “Dusty Wusty,” and our youngest, Lindell, 4, refers to him as Patrick (Starfish), Mr. Crabs, Red Toad (from Super Mario Bros.) or “You big meanie.”
At work, people follow Dustin’s orders; he doesn’t have to ask them twice.
At home, Dustin’s requests are met with:
“In just a minute, Dad.” (Ford, 10)
“Um, not right now, but maybe later.” (Owen, 8)
“Me not want to.” (Lindell).
Notice the pattern of diminishing effectiveness? Lindell is the most resistant and unmilitary-like of our three boys. He has sideburns that cover his ears, and he likes them that way, thank you very much. When Dustin calls into an adjoining room and asks Lindell what he’s up to, Lindell yells back, “You don’t need to know.”
A few nights ago at dinner, Lindell stood up in his chair, which is across the table from mine, and said, “Mom, I never gave you a Valentine. Do you want it?”
“Yes, of course,” I said.
So he turned around, pulled down his pants and mooned me.
I’m pretty sure this is not within military regulations, which might explain why the rest of us were in tears from laughing so hard and Dustin stared at his plate wondering where he had gone wrong. It reminds me of how my own military father, when asked why he didn’t encourage me to join the Navy, likes to say, “Because I wouldn’t do that to the military.”
Due to instances like those above, Dustin claims he needs “decompression time” when he gets home from work and before he can deal with our civilian shenanigans.
“Your decompression time is during the car ride home,” I used to say. I mean, when was the last time I got to ride in a car all alone and listen to the music of my choosing?
But Dustin persisted. “I need decompression time,” he’d say. “Trust me.”
And then it occurred to me. What he meant by “decompression time” really amounted to Wonder Woman going into a phone booth and turning around real fast until she changed personas. Dustin needed time to switch from the world where he is “Sir” to the world where his 4-year-old son can plainly say “No!” and there is no brig to send him to.
So I try to give Dustin phone-booth time as best I can. Because truly, I like the civilian side — the side that allows Dustin to put a paper bag over his head — of him best. That side of Dustin is really funny.
In order to keep the other rule-following, no-fun side of Dustin at bay (picture stuffing an unruly beast back into its cage), I have my tricks — like messing with the military’s phonetic alphabet.
The military lessens confusion between M’s, N’s, T’s and V’s with a system that matches words and letters: “V as in victory.” These word-letter pairings are, of course, regulated. But it’s much more fun — and it drives Dustin crazy — to come up with my own.
So when he says, “The boys need more discipline,” or “Lindell needs a haircut,” I just smile and say, “I’ll get on that Asparagus-Stew-Airplane-Petunia, Dear.”
Because bending the rules is so Fabio Underpants Naked.
Maine author and columnist Sarah Smiley’s writing is syndicated weekly to publications across the country. She and her husband, Dustin, live with their three sons in Bangor. She may be reached at email@example.com.