I’m not my kids’ pet sitter! Or wait, am I?
By the time we reach a certain age — and I’ve reached it — we stop apologizing for our crankiness and our crustiness. We dig in. We don’t bend.
Which is my way of saying that I will not — repeat NOT — take care of the pets of my adult children.
I have told them until I’m blue in the face that their precious beasts are not my grandchildren. Or my grandpuppies. Or my grandkitties.
I like their pets just fine — at their houses. I even scratch them behind the ears once in a while. But host Bubba, The Wonder Dog so his human family can go to the beach for a week? Take Avon, The Super Mutt so our daughter can do the same?
Do I look like I’m made of tissue paper? My backbone is firm. My resolve is total.
No, no, a thousand times no.
Of course, that declaration is never the end of it. Cajoling soon follows. Then pleading. Then guilt-tripping.
That latter is actually quite imaginative.
“Dad, I don’t understand why you’re saying no. Bubba just lu-u-u-u-vs you.”
“Dad, be reasonable. Cats require no attention. I don’t ask you for much, Dad…”
Not for the first time, and not for the last, the children head straight for the soft spot — my wife, who doubles as their mother.
They go behind my back. They cajole, plead and guilt-trip. Not for the first time or the last, I am lobbied hard, and I fold. We suddenly have an unwanted houseguest.
I glare at the furry beast. This does not improve his behavior one bit. When he wants/needs to be walked at 5 a.m., guess which fast-asleep human he nuzzles to get that message across.
That same human is outside at 5:03, his pants thrown on in a tizzy and a wrinkled T-shirt pulled quickly over his head. His sneakers are not tied — not enough time for that.
And there we are, beast and Mr. Grumpy Grouchy, ambling along, until the poor dear deigns to do his business on a piece of turf that meets his specifications.
Meanwhile, passersby can’t resist commenting. They almost burst into song. “Oh, your dog is so cu-u-u-te! How long have you had him?”
I reply that the beast is my son’s/my daughter’s. And I really hoped I’d still be asleep. And I really am expecting my Father of the Year trophy to arrive any day now.
Then there’s the inevitable trip to the pet store for restocking of supplies. This usually takes the form of kitty litter, which apparently isn’t sold in bags that weigh less than 300 pounds.
One time, I paid for a bag and hoisted it onto my shoulder to carry it to the car. It broke. Litter scattered everywhere.
The staff cheerfully cleaned up the mess and replaced the bag. What they could never clean up was the language I uttered. Let’s just say you won’t find any of it in the dictionary.
Agreeing to take a pet once does not exempt me from taking that same creature twice. The dam has been breached. Grumpy Old Dad has backed down.
My children, wonderful as they are, have advanced degrees in personal diplomacy. They don’t push too hard. They don’t ask too often. But the warning signs are always the same.
They look at the floor. They bring their eyes up to meet mine, with seriousness and purpose written all over their faces. And they say:
“Dad, I promise not to ask again any time soon. But do you think you and Mom could possibly…”
Glibly, I have told friends in my age group that there’s one good thing about your kids growing up and leaving home. You don’t have to have pets any more.
I have done my time, gentle reader. I tolerated goldfish when the kids were young. And hermit crabs. And cats of every description. Even frogs.
So, haven’t I earned time off for good behavior? Evidently not.
The worst part of it is that I was honest once. Our son left his cat with us for a week (it felt like two). I was watching a pro basketball game on TV. The cat was camped on the couch beside me.
The referee missed an obvious foul. I yelled at him via the TV screen. The cat fixed me with a baleful look that said, “You know they never call fouls in the NBA.”
I laughed for an hour. Stupidly, I told both kids what had happened.
Do you think that they have ever let me forget it? “See, Dad, you secretly LOVE taking care of (fill in the blank).”
No, I don’t. No, I won’t. This doesn’t make me a bad person. It just makes me an old guy who has to draw the line somewhere, and has.
Bob Levey is a national award-winning columnist.