Tragically Hip

“What’s that smell?” said my 13 year-old son walking into the bathroom, confirming my suspicion about why all three of my teenage children have been treating me different for the past few weeks.

I had thought it might be the gray in my beard, but I’ve had gray creep for a couple years now. And the balding? Couldn’t be. I haven’t had hair longer than a quarter inch since 2008, and besides, bald is beautiful.

“What’s that smell?” he said. Yes, we were in the bathroom, but no, it wasn’t that. My left foot was hiked up on the countertop while I brushed the clear liquid onto my big toe. I don’t know what’s more embarrassing, a son catching his Dad polishing his toenails or that I’m flexible at 40, but what came next changed everything.

“Oh. Paul’s Pharmacy.” He had read the prescription bottle next to my foot. And it’s not so much what he said but how he said it, emphasizing the Paul’s part. Like “Oh, that explains it.”

A few weeks earlier I knew I had passed through some sort of life-altering doorway when my doctor prescribed the toe fungus medication, the kind he said “can only be purchased from a local pharmacist, not a chain drug store,” which is the polite way of saying, “I’m sending you to the place where only people in their eighties go because whatever is growing on your toe should not exist in your generation.” It might still be cool to order una pizza or hire a plumber from a business that starts with a guy’s first name—and no disrespect to Paul—but I’m pretty sure pharmacies don’t make the cut.

Without hesitation, without offering even a smidgen of time for me to explain, my son had, in three short words, revoked my World’s Coolest Dad card, stripped me of part of my identity. With childlike honesty, he called it the way he saw it. Just like that. And all because of a guy’s first name in front of the wrong word at the wrong time. But I’m pretty sure he wasn’t calling me old.

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