My sister always likes to say that she hates dogs except for ours. They’re smelly, annoying, contribute relatively little to conversations and therefore, if they’re not ours, suck. Our dog is, of course, a shining beacon of everything majestic and moral — a noble creature that carries herself with the elegance of a princess and the beauty of a dog with several benign tumors beneath her eyelids. She doesn’t smell, and she certainly doesn’t eat grass and vomit it spontaneously when you pet her.
My sister has maintained this opinion for quite some time, and the last time she expressed it I began to think: Was there anything I could universally hate except for those of which are mine? That seemed a bit reductive and out of line with my loving and accepting nature. Could I really ever be that ignorant and elitist?
It turns out I can. I began trying to think of things I despised and, with my sister’s dog-hatred in mind, I immediately thought of children. In general, I find children to be relatively worthless and a waste of human resources like time, energy and diapers. I cannot for the life of me think of one valuable thing children contribute to society at large; they’re terrible cooks, they lack the ability to give well-reasoned legal advice and they read at low-grade levels. In fact, the more I thought about it, the more I realized that their only real redeeming quality is their tiny hands, which allow for small and complicated material goods to be assembled and sold. But even this can be replaced by more precise machines that don’t want to rent “Ernest Goes to Camp” every time they go to Blockbuster.
The flip side, however, is that I know I will love my own children. I will love them because, unlike the overwhelming majority of cowardly, useless children who wander aimlessly around elementary schools, my children will be multifaceted savants whose reputations for physical dominance and implementing marshal law on playgrounds will precede them. I want entire classrooms to bow down to them in fear because, frankly, this is the only way I will love them. They will be fully aware of this. As such, I have planned the childhoods of my progeny — more precisely, my two boys — down to the last detail so that my love for them and their admiration for me can be optimized.
Boy Number One, as he will be called between 0500 hours and lights out, will actually be named Dale Earnhardt Zier Jr. Like his namesake, he’ll be sponsored by Budweiser and will have to learn to cope with the fact that he’s awesome. Being the first born, he will have a nine-month advantage over Boy Number Two, but I will take this into account when calculating their scores, and I’ll be sure to let him know that just because he’s older doesn’t mean that he gets special attention. In fact, it means that after his second birthday, he’ll be financially independent. I will also train him in wilderness survival, using an intense regimen that will culminate in his killing a wolf that I’ve released into the wild. If you’ve ever seen “300,” I’m sure you understand how integral wolf-killing is to a young boy’s success.
Boy Number Two will be christened Maximus Jenny Zier, so that he may develop persistent emotional confusion attributable to his paradoxical name — confusion that will eventually result in a stronger but still confused teenager. I will impart unto the young Maximus Jenny the same advice my father gave me on my first day of school. I will pull him aside, look squarely into his eyes and tell him, “If someone tries to punch you, beat the hell out of them.” Of course, I will say this with the implied expectation that he rise to the top of the playground food chain via a series of fights that he justifies by saying his dad said fighting was okay. When I receive phone calls from parents of beaten-up children, I’ll apologize profusely, saying that my boy is confused because he has a paradoxical name. I will then punish him accordingly, making him take kick-boxing classes until he learns his lesson.
The most important aspect of my relationship with Boys One and Two, however, will be my relentless fostering of a hostile, unforgivingly competitive environment. I will pit Dale and Maximus Jenny against each other, turning even the most trivial of tasks into cutthroat struggles for my respect, which I will dole out in the form of ephemeral, approving nods. Gold stickers will also be distributed as necessary, and turned in on the third Sunday of every month for tabulation. The two will not, under any circumstances, be friends. Rather, they will be respectful enemies who, while exuding an air of mutual admiration, will secretly hate each other until they look back as old men and realize that they both admired their respective weight-lifting techniques.
As a father, I will never lose my firm grip on their lives. I’ll act as arbitrator of their many battles, using each as an opportunity to cultivate more competition and, by extension, more excellence. One day, Dale will come to me and complain that Maximus Jenny has made fun of him by saying that he (Maximus Jenny) could have killed way more than one wolf if left out in the wild. I’ll tell young Dale that, if I were him, I wouldn’t take that sort of shit from someone whose middle name is Jenny. After Dale makes sufficient fun of Maximus Jenny’s incongruous name and the girlishly named boy comes to me crying, I’ll tell him not to feel too bad, because it would have been way cooler if Dale had killed a bear.
This is exactly the sort of parental encouragement that breeds champions. Any naysayer reading this column would probably disagree vehemently and attack my methods, saying I just want to create a new breed of miniature, superhuman despots who kind of look like me except they’re a lot cooler and know how to fight. This is pretty much true. But what’s also true is that I’m doing them a favor. I can only wish in hindsight that my parents had been loving enough to mold me into a child as worthwhile and mature as Maximus Jenny will be — since he’s the one who will probably emerge triumphant — but since that never happened, I have to dedicate myself to not repeating my parents’ mistakes. Someday, Maximus Jenny, and maybe Dale, will thank me.
Daniel Zier will be the best dad.