When I was 6 years old, my dad was an avid collector of hi-fi equipment. He had an entire bookcase filled with all kinds of boxy hi-fi pieces, each one featuring hundreds of switches and knobs and dials and all kinds of crazy shit that helped you hear every possible sound inside a recording studio, all the way down to the drummer trying to muffle a fart on his stool. The centerpiece of my dad's system was an elegant tuner with a tuning wheel the size of an office clock. The frequencies were marked along the wheel like the yard markings on a football field, with a small dial in the center that you turned to manipulate the whole thing.
For my dad, this tuner was a treasured item. So fragile. So classy. For me, it was a kickass toy. Every night, I would reach up and spin the fuck out of that dial. I'd spin it left a hundred times, then right a hundred times, then get bored and go back to spinning it left. It was as if the man who designed it MEANT for children to fuck with it. I would spin the wheel around and then look at the other pieces of hi-fi equipment react to the schizophrenic tuning: columns of little red lights bouncing up and down, equalizer needles waving back and forth behind soft blue lights, little green dot lights blinking on and off. It was as if I were conducting a symphony of my own.
Then one day, my father stormed into my room.
DAD: Have you been messing with the hi-fi?
DAD: Lying only makes it worse.
ME: WHY DO YOU ALWAYS ACCUSE ME OF LYING? THAT'S SO UNFAIR!
(Even though I knew in my heart I was lying, my anger was real because my stance was that THEY couldn't have proven that I was lying, so it was totally wrong of them to brand me a liar even though I was TOTALLY a liar. Children are the best lawyers.)
DAD: It's broken now. That was a lovely tuner, and you broke the wheel.
Then he got crazy mad at me, and I wanted to die. A few years later, I was dicking around with the hi-fi again and this time I broke one of his record-player needles.
DAD: That needle was made of boron crystal.
ME: What's boron?
DAD: YOU ARE NOT SUPPOSED TO TOUCH IT.
To this day, we still talk about both incidents. We replay them as if they were important sporting events.
* * *
I got an iPhone on Wednesday. It was my first iPhone because I'm five years behind the rest of the universe. In fact, the reason I got it was because my parents each got one last month, and so I finally had to be like FUCK THAT. MY PARENTS WILL NOT BE COOLER THAN I AM. And when the iPhone arrived in the mail, I reacted the same way every dipshit Apple fanboy does when they open a new Apple product. OMG look at the packaging. It's so thoughtful. I don't see any staples anywhere on this box. A thousand design teams must have worked a thousand days to make something this simple yet sophisticated. OMG THE PHONE IS SO SHINY. NO HARD ANGLES FAP FAP FAP.
I took the phone out, and it immediately became the center of my universe. I went to bed last night thinking about the phone. I woke up this morning thinking about the phone. When I woke up to pee in the middle of the night, I thought about checking on the phone just to make sure it was OK. I hope nothing bad happens to it. God, I don't know what I would do if I lost it. When I wasn't using the phone last night, I stared at it, WANTING to use it but not wanting to look as if I were overdoing it. I worried about using the phone to maximum capabilities. Do I have all the important apps? Did it import my contacts correctly? I PROMISE NOT TO LOOK AT NAKED PEOPLE ON IT. THIS TIME I'M REALLY GONNA KEEP A COMPUTING DEVICE CLEAN. I worried that I wasn't making enough time for the phone, that my children were depriving me of precious time spent with the newest addition to our family. My daughter ran up to me.
HER: Can I see it?
And when she asked, I time-traveled all the way back to Chicago 1984, with me destroying my dad's precious hi-fi, every piece of which, in total, lacked the processing power of the little phone now in my hand.
ME: NO. This is daddy's phone.
HER: Lemme just see!
I handed it to her for three seconds, and when she put her fingers on the touch screen, I immediately grabbed it back. Children's hands are FILTHY. They touch everything. They finger their own butts. They don't care. I didn't want my precious new electronic devices marred by stray fecal matter. I've seen any number of parents hand over their phones to their children at the playground, letting them wipe their boogery hands all over the screen. Fuck that. I wasn't going down like that. My wife saw me take the phone away and frowned.
WIFE: Promise me you're not gonna ignore everyone just to stare at that thing.
ME: I would NEVER do that. Never.
I was lying. Of course I was lying. I treasured the phone the same way I did the television and the desktop computer. My parenting life has been spent worrying obsessively that my children will destroy these things, and wives are not sympathetic to such concerns. To many wives, men have an unhealthy obsession with gadgets. They don't view a television as a noble possession. In fact, it's something the house really shouldn't have. It's only there because daddy is selfish and wants it. It's not like a dishwasher, which is practical and useful. You aren't supposed to prize an iPad or a TV over your own kids, and I don't. I really don't. But goddamn, when one of the kids gets too close to the TV, I tell them to back the fuck off like I'm a bank robber confronting a security guard.
Because these objects DO matter, and that's OK. The fun thing about watching TV or fucking with some new phone is that, in that moment, I'm not doing anything else. I don't have any responsibilities. I don't have to wash a dish or schedule some fucking doctor's appointment. It's my little thing in the middle of the day, and that gives me the breather I need to go back and play freeze tag with the kids for another two hours. There's nothing wrong with that, except for the fact that your kids learn by example and will one day share your obsession and become fat, craven feedbags staring at glowing screens 20 hours a day. Apart from that, it's all good. As a dad, I like retreating to the safety of fun little objects that ask nothing of me, that I can control as I please. It's a nice little respite from the rest of life, almost all of which is decidedly out of my control: wars and stock markets and hurricanes and dickhead classmates harassing my kid and all that.
Sometimes, I think about how I'll react if my kids break something important to me. Because I know it'll happen at some point. One of them will throw a baseball through my monitor, or paint the TV with glitter glue, or commit some other unspeakable atrocity to one of my prized gadgets. I wonder if I'll respond with grace and dignity, if I'll sit down with my child and be like, "Now little Johnny, was that the right thing to do? Perhaps we should think twice before tonguing a USB port." But deep down, I know I won't react that way. I'll probably react the same way my dad did: super fucking pissed. And now I totally understand why.