Profiles In Parenting

The Simpsons notwithstanding, I’ve long resented the cult of paternal incompetence. It’s bad enough to see the Bumbling Father archetype evoked to sell cough meds, but now Joe Barton (R-Texas) trots it out to support his bold stance on less poisonous toys.

I think everybody on the subcommittee knows that I have a two-year-old son, Jack Kevin Barton. There are millions of little Jack Kevin Bartons in the United States. Each of them is precious to their parents and to their family, just like Jack is precious to me and my family. These little tykes are so inquisitive and so adventuresome that you really have to be smart to keep them safe.

I’ll give you an example. It’s not a toy, but it’s the same principle. Last weekend my wife had to go run some errands and while she wasn’t sure I was capable of taking care of Jack by myself, I was given that opportunity since we couldn’t get a babysitter. He brought me a bag of microwave popcorn that he had gotten out of the cupboard. I was watching a football game. I said, ‘No, Jack, your mother doesn’t want you to have popcorn. Put it back.’ He toddles off.

I’m watching the game and all of a sudden I hear this ‘beep, beep, beep’ coming from the kitchen. He had taken the popcorn back into the kitchen, got a chair, pulled the chair over to the built-in microwave, which is about six feet above the floor, climbed up on the chair, opened the microwave, put the popcorn in, figured out how to hit the popcorn button and pushed the darn button. Now, it was in the cellophane and the cellophane started popping and burning so I rushed in and of course he was just proud as punch that he had figured out how to do microwave popcorn, even though he didn’t know that he was supposed to undo the cellophane.

That’s what we’re up against – 20 or 30 million Jack Kevin Bartons. If they can get hold of it, they’re going to try to figure it out.

If a congresswoman had shared this anecdote, she’d be shellacked as the next Britney Spears. But coming from Joe Barton, it illustrates his “principle” that we need to engineer a world safe enough for every dimwitted dad who’s been stuck with the onerous duty of watching TV while ignoring his toddler.