Always looking for ways to improve myself, I was happy to learn the other day that I open the front door "a little too aggressively," in the words of my younger daughter. She's not even married yet, but in those words I see such potential.
In fairness, when I wake up at 5 a.m. to let the dogs out, I am rarely at my gentlest. Typically, I parent with great gobs of patience and compassion — except at 5 in the morning.
What happens is that our 300-pound beagle waddles from the bedroom to go out, then eat. He's on meds now, to control his appetite, his mood swings and a recent propensity to piddle almost everywhere.
Not only do I have to crush up his pills so that he won't spit them out (beagles have amazing lip control), I also need to scoop a little gluten-free turkey and potato into his bowl. To that, I add three-quarters of a cup of a special dry food.
In short, our dogs eat better than I do.
None of this was my idea, of course. When my wife Posh got seriously sick, the 300-pound beagle went to live with his "mother," the lovely and patient older daughter, who'd acquired him in college and then dumped him on us.
When Posh got sick, the old dog spent three weeks in our daughter's bungalow in Santa Monica, a land of enchantment and glowy good health. In Santa Monica, it's against the law to be even a little squishy, even if you're a beagle or a dad.
During that time, a team of vets was brought in to analyze why the dog was 275 pounds overweight. They determined it might be related to his diet.
So, this beagle who's never really taken very good care of himself, is back home and my responsibility again, at 5 a.m., a time at which I can barely stand up, let alone crush the right meds in the right bowl with the right food.
One hazy morning, I will mistakenly give him my prescription laxative, and the world as we know it may come to a horrific end.
Look, there is no creature quite so wonderful as a dog. Who could conceptualize such a thing? Structurally, dogs are a whimsical notion — just look at their snouts, or their movable ears, the way they love us no matter what. Dogs have bigger hearts than we do … it's not even close. They are also extremely good kissers.
In addition to the beagle, we now have this new puppy, a too-gorgeous Siberian husky we think might be a Russian spy, or at least a tennis player seeking asylum.
No kidding, she looks like a Bond girl. Blue eyes. Great glutes. Amazing mane. And generous? If you know anything about huskies, you know that they bring their own snow drifts with them wherever they go.
Our house looks like a Macy's Christmas window exploded. We vacuum constantly, and still there are vast snowy drifts of husky hair, which is shiny, like ermine…you could stuff it in your slippers.
As I said, I typically parent with great gobs of patience and compassion, so I have become a master of something called a "Swiffer," a dry mop with magical, almost godlike powers. From one Swiffer sweeping, you could create an entire Justin Bieber.
So, into our world comes the beautiful Russian spy, who at 5 in the morning can't believe that the special food I've prepared for the 300-pound beagle isn't a communal meal. While the beagle eats, I have to distract the young Russian with gold trinkets and Champagne, till the beagle finishes his gluten-free fare.
By then, I'm usually a little drunk.
At 5 a.m., the dogs and I are the only ones up, and I kind of like it that way. My daughter, the door expert, labeled me "a busybody" because, since Posh's diagnosis, I've been whirling around — organizing the garage, polishing the cars, vetting the kitchen utensil drawer.
One reader, in hearing of my utensil project, reasoned that I choose these little projects out of a need to control something, whereas I feel helpless in the face of my wife's endometrial cancer, the medical bills, the doctors' explanations I only half-understand.
Or, it could just be a need to stay busy, which is something I've always required. Tasks. Goals. Canine breakfasts.
Give me a task and I'm semi-happy.
Give me the whimsy of dogs, and I'm fine.