Rather than find a moment to engage in a tickling game, I found myself hustling my kids from dinner to bed, racing against a buzzer signaling the end of my daily energy. Instead of reading funny books or singing silly songs, I was getting the kids ready for a gym class or soccer practice or just shushing them to keep the noise down. I was just too stressed and irritable to find much humor in my family life.
Then, one autumn night after a hectic workweek, we were having dinner with friends. We had eaten well, the kids had been playing beautifully, and we were finishing dessert. I noticed how much Benjamin, 6, and his buddy David chuckled at the way my younger son, Jacob, 3, secretly hoarded all the unclaimed cake from around the table. I couldn’t help laughing too, and this just sent the kids into more hysterics. And something about the dessert and feeling of seeing them so happy reminded me of a favorite Bill Cosby skit.
“Do you guys know the story of ‘Chocolate Cake’?” I asked.
“No! Tell it, Daddy, tell it!” Benjamin shouted.
“Well, this guy, Bill, gets awakened by his wife and is told to make breakfast for his children,” I begin, recounting the skit imperfectly. “He goes downstairs and doesn’t know what to make, since he doesn’t usually cook. When his little daughter comes down, Bill asks, ‘What would you like for breakfast?’ The little girl responds, ‘chocolate cake!’”
Benjamin and David giggled giddily at this, encouraging me all the more.
“So Bill stops, looks at the cake on the counter behind him, and thinks, ‘Eggs, milk, wheat … nutritious! Chocolate cake is good for you!’”
The boys busted up again.
“‘One slice of chocolate cake coming up!’” And I did the Cosby special effect of cutting the delicacy, “Jjjooom!”
Jacob loves special effects, so this had his raspy giggle chiming in as the kids laughed all the way through the story, falling over each other, and watching me with tears in their eyes. Frankly, as I looked at my own sons, I too welled up, joyful at being the cause of their glee.
They made me repeat the skit a couple more times that night and Benjamin badgered me to rehash it the next day too. Decades after being that little boy watching Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids and listening to Wonderfulness, I was standing in Bill Cosby’s shoes, fully aware of the importance of amusing children.
It’s so essential to me that my New Year’s resolution is to make the kids laugh every day.
For all the pride I have in helping to provide food, shelter, education, and a few lessons on character, nothing beats the bond of laughter. When I make my kids giggle, it lets them know that the big, older guy who forces them to eat their dinner and do their homework can also connect with them on a basic level of instantaneous bliss.
Now, I know there will be days I don’t want to be funny, but it’s an ambition worth pursuing, because it makes me as happy as they are. The task is made easier by all the resources at my disposal. Taking my subject matter from their conversations, any crazy noises, character voices, mentions of the word “poopie” or imitations of babies gets them rolling in the aisles. If I don’t have the energy to tickle the kids, tell jokes or otherwise be silly on my own, I can sit with them and listen to old Cosby albums. I can watch funny movies, from the old (Danny Kaye’s The Court Jester) to the new (the unbeatable Shrek flicks). I can read hilarious books (Peggy Rathmann’s visual comedy is brilliant in Officer Buckle and Gloria).
And my kids can be pretty darn funny on their own. All I have to do is play the straight man and I’m golden. Benjamin has a genius belly laugh, but Jacob is the real comic in the family. He has the facial expressions of a Jim Carrey and the rakish charm of a Cary Grant. The other night, he placed his ragged blanket on my head and told me, “Daddy, you look like a beauuutiful girl.”
Yes, I will endure any and all jokes at my expense as long as my children giggle. I may not always be able to inspire their chuckles, but I have no intention of getting off the laugh track.