I am not a man who possesses many skills.
The changing of a lightbulb has been my crowning achievement in terms of home-improvement efforts, and that did not come without a torrent of obscenities, a plethora of broken lightbulbs and what looked like the opening crime scene in an episode of “Forensic Files,” while I was wrapped in more bandages than a mummy on blood thinners.
Drawing, painting, sculpture? No, no, no. Playing a musical instrument? I once slipped getting out of the shower, and my head made a percussion-like sound when it bounced off the bathroom sink, but I’m not sure you’d really call that “playing an instrument.”
Poetry? There’s one I recall about a gentleman from Nantuckett, but, again, I’m not really expecting credit for being able to recite that. Dance? I challenge anybody to watch me move to music and call it a “dance.” A better description might be “human lava-lamp” with ADD.
Really, if I’m being totally honest, I have two skills — I can fake my way to making it appear like I can write a little, and I’m really good at getting yelled at.
Like, really, really good at getting yelled at.
Oh, it has not come without practice. As the son of an Irish mother who was largely raised in the Bronx, my training began at a young and impressionable age. It’s not that she was mad at me all that often, it’s just kind of how she spoke. By the age of 3, I was able to out-curse most truck-drivers while clutching a rosary, and was basically impervious to the damages of loud and aggressive language being aimed at my direction.
My skills only grew with age. Organized sports brought coaches into my life’s equation, and with them came too-short shorts, loud whistles and more yelling. I quickly learned that just doing what they told me to do forced them to largely focus more of their screaming attention at other kids on the team, but it also did not entirely escape me that coaches are just going to yell at you sometimes, if you make mistakes or not.
Maybe it was the short shorts?
At this point in my life, I considered myself a bit of a seasoned professional at the skill of receiving a good tongue-lashing. Loud words offered me instruction, but they didn’t really generate any fear in me anymore. The shock-and-awe of someone raising his or her voice at me provided me no shock or awe — just some added decibels to allow me to more easily receive the message that was intended. You could say I had earned my Bachelor’s Degree in Accepting Verbally Agressive Instructions.
And I was about to enter the Master’s program.
Yes, I found myself in my late teen years with a shaved head at Marine Corps Recruit Training Depot, Parris Island, S.C. — also known as “Crazytown, U.S.A.” A screaming guy in a “Smokey the Bear” hat jumped on the bus we arrived in, another joined him in instructing us to stand on some yellow footprints and 37,294 more came out of the shadows screaming that we were to head in X direction for this, Y direction for that and to inform me that I was personally offending them by sharing in the same reserve of oxygen as real human beings. Oh, I had met my match. No doubt about it.
But I learned to deal with it, eventually accepted it and later appreciated it. I became well-versed in learning to function in high-stress situations, and that skill has come in handy more times than I can count. Once again, I persevered and embraced loud verbal instruction.
However, a challenge awaited me. A dark challenge — the likes of which I was woefully unprepared to face. I became a father.
My daughter, now 4 years old, has always been, shall we say, “spirited.” Now, one’s interpretation of “spirited” could mean several things. It can be taken as, “Wow, that girl is going to change the world with her drive and energy.” Or, maybe, “She is going to be a handful for someone down the road.” Or, “I think I just saw her head spin around in circles. Is this supposed to happen?”
Regardless, she has a lot of energy and passion, and that is a huge part of what makes me like her every bit as much as I love her. But, oh, boy, she can push my buttons. Most notably, through her ability to yell — for good, bad or flat-out evil purposes.
If she’s excited and running around, she yells in a high-pitched shriek that makes the dog run for cover and the paint peel from the wall. If she gets told to pick up her toys, she yells about how she’s too tired or sick to do it, and then yells again when she gets punished for yelling. And when she gets punished, as she often does, well, that’s the greatest yell of them all — the one that would force my former drill instructors to assume the fetal position and hide under their desk while...
Yeah, just kidding. Those guys don’t hide from anything.
So, yes, it would seem that I’ve met my match. Her screaming and yelling have caused me to shake a bit inside and possibly long for my mommy more than I should. But maybe she’s met her match in this yell-off, too. I am a professional at this.