This column was originally published in 2006
From time to time I lay in bed and wonder how my life got so complicated — three cars, four cellphones and four children at three different schools.
On weekends my kids like to invite over their friends, who seem to never leave. Our home has seen sleepovers that run for two, maybe three nights. We need name tags for breakfast. Think “Family Circus” on steroids.
I have other issues.
My sons’ homework problems become my problems. Some mornings I stare at my hair line and my expanding profile and dream of the days before children, when life was simple — really cheap.
And then my path crosses with another parent who puts my life into perspective, some poor soul who reminds me just how much worse my life could be.
I was attending my son’s baseball game in Lenexa. And as we endured the ninth walk I started chatting with one of the other parents. This parent had older children. He had that “been there, done that” look to him. You know the type — thinning gray hair, large bags under the eyes, constantly checking his watch. I’ll call him Frank. As he heard me describe my complicated life to another parent, he looked at me and smiled. “Young man, you have no problems. You don’t own a horse.”
I strained my ears. “I’m sorry. What did you say?”
He spoke louder this time: “I said own a horse. If you have a daughter, thank your lucky stars she does not have her own horse.”
I closed my eyes to contemplate the enormity of what he just said. Two words I have never heard together in the same sentence, “own” and “horse.”
He moved very close to me on the bleachers. “Do you have a daughter?” he asked. I nodded. And for the next three innings he had a very captive audience of one. I heard tales that would bring most sensible dads to their knees. And the story went something like this:
“You see, it starts out very innocently. Girls love horses. I can’t understand it. But they do. They draw pictures of horses, they read books about horses, watch movies of horses. It’s something in their genes. And moms know this. They wanted a horse when they were young. But they never got one. Because their dads had something few parents have these days — common sense. So it’s one of those things that prompts your wife to say, ‘You wouldn’t understand, you are a man.’
“And statements like these, for husbands, are not negotiable. We learn to just turn and find something else to occupy our time, like the cable remote.” I nod.
“And one day you come home from work and something seems different. Your daughter has a bounce in her step. Your wife seems really nice to you. Something is up and you are about to find out what.”
“Shortly thereafter, you find yourself a passenger in a car on a country drive. The car stops at a farm. But not a farm that raises corn or wheat. This farm raises animals. But I’m not talking about cows. I mean horses. The next thing you know, you are standing before a stable. In it is a beautiful horse, with a name like ‘Gentry’ or something like that. Your daughter climbs on the horse and rides in a circle. She smiles broadly. She looks absolutely beautiful. Mature. With me so far?”
I nod. “Good, because now it gets interesting.
“Let me stop for a minute. This kind of thing tends to happen to those dads who have only one daughter. Let me guess — you have just one.” I nod. Frank smiles broadly.
I wiped the sweat from my brow. “Wow,” I say. “I guess it could be worse.”
“It is,” Frank says. “You see, a horse is one pet that you pay people to keep. You visit the thing on weekends. And when you do, you bring your wallet, because you have to pay them while you are there. To bathe the horse. Ride it. Feed it.
“Horses need their own veterinarian too. The vet has an assistant whose primary job is to send you a bill every 30 days. There is a trailer and a pickup to pull it. And let me tell you about the horse shows.”
I interrupted him. “No more, please, unless the ending involves a horse burial.”
“Actually, I’m winding down. Just another hour.” I cut him off again. “Stop please. My doctor warned me to monitor my blood pressure. It’s peaking.”
For the first time I noticed the scoreboard. The game was over. The score did not matter to me. Getting home immediately did.