Russ, do you remember when we first got into this business? We said we were gonna’ play the game like we had nothing to lose.
~ Danny Ocean
It’s hard to pick a favorite character in Ocean’s 11, isn’t it? They’re all crooks, of course, and certainly not role models for our young’uns, but still an affable bunch, and curiously sympathetic. I’m convinced that the likability of the “eleven” is the main reason the film is such an enduring favorite and eminently re-watchable, over and over again.
In our most recent family screening (“family” minus the wee ones, of course – affability only goes so far), the standout character for me was Saul Bloom, a veteran con-artist recently retired. In one scene, Danny Ocean expresses his hope to recruit Saul for one more big caper. “We need Saul,” he tells Rusty, his partner. “He won’t do it,” Rusty replies. “He got out of the game a year ago.
Out of the game – meaning out of the crime business, out of the craziness and thrill of setting up marks, pulling off jobs, and living on the lam. Saul got out of the game and took up a respectable, domesticated life instead. “I got a duplex now,” he says at one point. “I got wall to wall and a goldfish. I’ve changed.”
Saul came to mind when I heard an NPR interview with Nathan Deuel recently. Deuel had been a reporter in the Middle East during the Arab Spring uprisings, and he wrote a book about his experience living there with a young family. At one point, Deuel responded to a question about how he balanced his work with the responsibilities of fatherhood, and he made this comparison:
In some ways I was so kind of humiliated by all the simple things I had to do like…figuring out what to do with my daughter’s dirty diapers in Istanbul. At the same time, Tahrir Square in Egypt is exploding and there are there are these exhilarating, wonderful things that I feel tangentially a part of, but my duties at the end of the day were to make sure this 1-year-old was happy and learning how to walk and clean and safe and warm.
That’s it! Nathan has gotten out of the game and discovered the secret of dad-hood: Kissing exhilaration goodbye, and learning to thrive in a land of poopy diapers.
We’re never great at this, which is why George Gilder could write so convincingly of brutish men requiring the civilizing influence of marriage and family life. Yet, even when we get married and start raising a family, an ongoing submission of the will is required or the civilizing effects won’t take. Without that submission, we wind up bitter and frustrated, and probably divorced – like the central figure in Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle as described by Sam Sacks:
Volume two alternates between Karl Ove’s life as a husband and father and the circumstances that led him to leave his first wife and marry his second. Its most memorable episodes involve the pram-pushing indignities that bourgeois parenthood inflicts on a man possessed by dreams of grandeur and “invincibility.”
It’s true: Pram-pushing and diaper-changing are hard to reconcile with dreams of grandeur, which is why we have to surrender our dreams of grandeur.
Instead, we embrace diaper culture and its accompanying formation in humility. No grandeur in wrangling wet diapers, that’s for sure, and nothing exhilarating about making midnight diaper runs to Kroger’s. Instead, the diaper aisle and the diaper pail are the dad’s equivalent to St. Benedict’s “school of the Lord’s service,”
in which we hope to introduce nothing harsh or burdensome. But even if, to correct vices or to preserve charity, sound reason dictateth anything that turneth out somewhat stringent, do not at once fly in dismay from the way of salvation, the beginning of which cannot but be narrow.
And it’s only the beginning, of course – next up, potty training! Meanwhile, cool stuff is happening in Tahrir Square and elsewhere, and you’re home, keeping tabs on your toddler’s fluid intake and toileting schedule while scrambling to get the lawn mowed and the bills paid. Not exactly exciting stuff, yet the ideal classroom for training in selflessness. Deuel put it this way:
I have to tell you that the birth of our child completely changed me. I found myself worrying more and seeing some of the dangerous — or perhaps adventurous if you want to be charitable — things we used to do; I was no longer attracted to them because I had like this tiny, beautiful human being who needed us.
And here’s the odd thing: It’s unlikely you’ll ever be attracted again to your old life of danger and adventure, whatever form it took.
Striving to be a decent father changes us in ways we could never anticipate: Our priorities change, our interests, our passions. It’s hard to describe, but I’ll tell you what. When the kids start growing up? When they’re graduating from high school and going to college? You won’t start pining for Istanbul and grandeur. Instead, if you’re like me, what you’ll really miss is the diaper aisle, and you’ll get nostalgic every time you pass it by.
I haven’t been down one in a long, long time.