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NWI Parent
NWI Parent

Rick Kaempfer's business card says author/writer/blogger, but his real job is "stay-at-home-dad."

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Life is a Highway

February 26th, 2012 - By Rick Kaempfer

It all started when the first “Cars” movie came out a few years ago. We bought the DVD because the boys loved that film, and you know what happens when you own the DVD of a kids movie. You watch it over and over and over again.

There’s a song in that movie by Rascal Flatts called “Life is a Highway”, and I’m not sure of this, but I believe it plays on a continuous loop in the background. Now, I’ve always liked the original version of the song by Tom Cochran, and I liked this version too, at least initially. But after hearing it for the one millionth time, it got stuck in my head.

I don’t mean it got stuck in my head for an afternoon. I mean it was playing in my head for a solid year. I couldn’t get it out. The chorus was constantly being repeated in my brain…Life is a highway, I’m going to ride it all night long. Life is a highway, I’m going to ride it all night long. Life is a highway, I’m going to ride it all night long.

Over and over and over again.

While I worked. While I cooked. While I slept.

I subconsciously hummed it continuously. I muttered the chorus. The words and the tune wouldn’t stop playing in my brain. But just when I thought my head would explode, I discovered a bright side…

It began to really annoy my boys. Really, really annoy them. They began to hate the song, because I referred to it all the time, and the more they were annoyed by it, the more it began to amuse me.

If we were driving in the car, and I even saw a highway, I would say to the boys…”Hey fellas, what’s that road over there called?”

They would groan before they identified it. “It’s a highway, Dad.”

“And what are we going to do on that highway?”

“Ride it all night long?”

“That’s right.”

Nearly every subject we discussed, the wisdom of Tom Cochran would flop out. Usually it began in question form. “Boys, do you know what life is?”

“Dad, stop it! Please stop it!”

Oh, I’d love to stop it, but you guys put that song into my head by watching the movie a million times, and it ain’t goin’ anywhere.

“It’s a highway,” I would answer my own question. “I want you to remember that. That will take you far in life. You want to know why?”

Their hands were now over their ears and they were saying blah, blah, blah.

“Because you’re going to ride it all night long. That’s why.”

I’m not sure how it finally got out of my head, but I’ve been living “highway free” for a couple of years now. I still get the itch, the urge, the tingling feeling–thinking I need a Tom Cochran or Rascal Flatts hit occasionally, but I’ve been able to repress it. I usually start singing a different song in my head to make it go away.

But every now and then, when someone says the words “Life is…” and then pauses, I have no choice but to complete the sentence.

All night long.

Filed under: parent.

Turn That Noise Down!

February 19th, 2012 - By Rick Kaempfer

One of the biggest disputes I had with my father when I was a teenager was about music. My father enjoyed classical music, country & bluegrass music, and ethnic music (like polkas and the like), but he really didn’t even consider the music I liked (rock and roll) to be legitimate music.

“They just play three chords and scream,” was one of his critiques. “It sounds like an animal is being wounded,” was another.

But his favorite comment was one that I heard nearly every day: “Turn that noise down!”

As my kids approached their teen years I was ready for this same fight. I felt the same way about some of the rap and hip hop music out there now (not all, but some), and I dreaded the moment the words flopped out of my own mouth: “Turn that noise down!”

But something very strange has happened instead. Instead of becoming the thing that drives us apart, music has become the thing that keeps us together. My boys have discovered my music (the wounded animal, three chords and screaming noise), and absolutely love it. It’s not unusual at all to spend hours together listening to it and discussing it.

They know that I’m a former rock and roll disc jockey and I have a ridiculous amount of knowledge about this subject, so when we’re at the dinner table, we put on my iPod and they pick my brain about the songs.

When we’re in the car, we put on the classic rock station (The Drive 97.1 FM), and the boys marvel at my ability to name each and every song within moments of the first notes. Listening to that great station with their incredibly knowledgeable disc jockeys also gives us ideas for songs the boys simply must go on iTunes to buy. I almost never say no when they want to add one of my favorites to their growing music collections.

Each boy is really into rock and roll. I mean really into it. Sean has nearly every Beatles song on his iPod. (The Beatles seem to be the universal rock and roll gateway drug). Johnny has branched out into Smashmouth, Bryan Adams, AC/DC, Green Day, and Fountains of Wayne. Tommy is totally into progressive rock from the late 60s/early 70s, and now has every single song recorded by Pink Floyd, Yes, and the Moody Blues.

Instead of yelling at the boys to turn down the noise, we turn it up together and rock out.

Don’t get me wrong–there are plenty of the normal teen/dad arguments in our house. Plenty of them. They can be about any and every topic under the son, but never about music.

I really don’t mind that arrangement.

Better to be “Mommy’s alright, Daddy’s alright, they just seem a little weird” instead of “Your mama don’t dance and your daddy don’t rock and roll.”

Know what I mean?

Filed under: parent.

Life is Good

February 12th, 2012 - By Rick Kaempfer

The other morning when I woke up my youngest son Sean, it was immediately clear he was waking up on the right side of the bed.

“You know, Dad,” he said, as he rubbed his eyes. “Life is good.”

I laughed, and agreed.

“I really mean it,” he continued as he climbed down the stairs of his bunk bed. “Think about it. I’ve got it pretty good here. I mean, this is a nice house.”

I nodded. “Nice enough, I suppose.”

“And look at all my stuff. I’ve got a lot of pretty cool stuff.”

“Yes, that’s true,” I concurred.

Our dog Ivy came up to lick his hand. He let her lick his left hand, while he patted her head with his right.

“And this dog. We’ve got a beautiful dog. Look at how awesome this dog is.”

“Are you sure you’re not sleepwalking?” I asked.

“I’m awake, Dad,” he said. “It’s just that sometimes you have to remind yourself how good you have it. I’ve got everything I ever needed.”

“OK,” I said suspiciously, “Now I know you’re up to something. What is it?”

“Nothing,” he said. “Honestly. Nothing. Everything is great.”

He walked into the kitchen and began to make himself some breakfast. I followed him.

“Don’t forget, you have great parents too,” I reminded him.

He put his cereal box down, and looked up at me. “You know what,” he said. “That’s true. You and mom are awesome parents.”

“And you have great brothers too,” I added.

“Dad,” he said, showing me his palm. “Don’t push it.”

I should have quit while I was ahead.

Filed under: parent.

Super Bowl Sunday

February 5th, 2012 - By Rick Kaempfer

And on Super Bowl Sunday, Father Knows Nothing rests.

Back next week.

Filed under: parent.

The Joy of Defeating Dad

January 29th, 2012 - By Rick Kaempfer

My three boys have very few things in common. They have totally different strengths, weaknesses and interests. But they do share one important bond: Pure, unadulterated glee when they beat their father at something. It’s the only time I ever see them rooting for each other.

When Tommy got his first ACT score in the mail, there were high-fives all around. His brothers weren’t excited for him just because he got a good score. They were more excited that he had beaten my score. Tommy, the least competitive kid I’ve ever met, held the paper in the air and waved it at me.

When Johnny advanced to his most recent rank in Boy Scouts, there were pats on the back from the sibling peanut gallery. His brothers weren’t excited for him because it was such an impressive achievement. They were excited that he had advanced beyond my highest Boy Scout rank, which meant even more. There was some taunting that night; Johnny even pointed at me from the stage while he was being awarded the patch.

And now Sean is obsessed with beating me. He knows how many goals I scored in my soccer career, so every time he scores, the first thing he says to me is how many more it will take before he beats my record. He scored three goals in the last week, and now he’s within sniffing distance. It’s just a matter of time and we all know it. His brothers, who never, and I mean NEVER root for him, are cheering him on.

There is something about the father-son relationship that brings this out in nearly every son. I’ll never forget when I finally became taller than my dad. That was a proud moment for me; an in your face, pops, look at me now, I’m bigger than you are, moment.

But here’s the part I never understood when I was the son-half of the competition. The father-half of the competition doesn’t look at it the same way at all. Every time the boys beat me at something I don’t get upset that I’ve been bested (although I pretend to get upset because that really makes them happy). In fact, when they achieve something I never achieved (despite trying very hard to achieve it), I can barely contain my pride.

Just don’t tell them that, OK?

It will totally ruin their fun.

Filed under: parent.

Shopping List Revenge

January 22nd, 2012 - By Rick Kaempfer

My buddy Dave and I often commiserate about the insanely detailed shopping lists we get from our wives. (A few great examples are here, if you’re interested).

Well, this week, something incredible happened to Dave. His wife actually asked him to make a shopping list for her, because she hadn’t been around all week and didn’t know what they needed in the house.

He couldn’t resist. This is the list he gave her…

English Muffins (no high fructose corn syrup, from the Klieder region in Northlumbard, UK)

Bacon, no nitrites, 100% natural, kentucky pork…Alabama also ok

Bread (baked by druids)

Butter (whipped, salted and blessed by pope)

Milk (organic, from Bavarian Maidens)

Cream cheese (from Baltimore, not Philadelphia)

Sliced cheese (1/8″ thick, no more, period)

Cereal (woodbark preferably)

Lunch meat (head cheese)

Crackers (shaped like little berets)

Juice (pomegranate, kiwi, guava mix only)

Dave deodorant (as many chemicals as possible)

Toms toothpaste (must be manufactured by a guy named Tom, need COA)

Organic steak

Hot dogs

Frozen vegetables (Black Mexican Radish, Amish grown only)

Bananas only if cheap

Berries (White or Chuck)

Organic Bavarian Witch hazel

Here’s the funny part to me. He copied me on his e-mail to his wife, and I didn’t look at the subject line that closely, so I just assumed that it was one of his wife’s real lists he was forwarding to me. It did seem a bit extreme, but honestly, not that much worse than her other lists.

I didn’t doubt it’s authenticity until I got to the butter. C’mon, Dave. Everyone knows that the Pope is from Germany. They don’t eat salted butter in Germany.

Rookie mistake.

Filed under: parent.

Snow Music

January 15th, 2012 - By Rick Kaempfer

The first snow of the year is always an exciting event for the boys. When they left for school in the morning on Thursday they knew the weatherman was calling for snow, so they pulled out their snow pants and boots in anticipation. When school was over, a few inches of the white stuff was already on the ground, and they knew what they had to do.

Within seconds of coming home, Sean was dressed in his snow gear, and on his way over to his friend’s house to go sledding. Johnny was working the phones for snow play pals, and even I was getting into the spirit. I started humming “Winter Wonderland”.

“Christmas is over,” Johnny reminded me as he looked up a friend’s phone number. “You can’t sing Christmas songs anymore.”

“‘Winter Wonderland’ isn’t about Christmas at all,” I pointed out. “It’s about snow.”

I continued humming, and he continued looking for the number.

“It’s too bad it didn’t snow for Christmas this year,” he lamented. “Christmas wasn’t the same without snow.”

“Yeah, it would have been nice to have had a White Christmas,” I responded. I shifted my humming to that famous song.

“Now that song definitely says Christmas,” Johnny pointed out.

“That’s an easy fix,” I said. “I’ll just change the words. What’s the next holiday coming up? Groundhog’s Day? How about this: ‘I’m dreaming of a white Groundhogs day.’ See? It doesn’t need to be about Christmas. It can still be about snow. Any holiday works just as well.”

“Actually, the next holiday isn’t Groundhogs day” he corrected me, “It’s Martin Luther King day.”

“Fine,” I said, and starting singing it. “I’m dreaming of a white…”

I stopped singing it just in time.

Turns out, the whole lyric substitution thing isn’t appropriate for every holiday.

Filed under: parent.

2011 Recap

January 8th, 2012 - By Rick Kaempfer

It’s become an annual tradition that I share my family Christmas letter with everyone. Obviously it’s more of a parody of a Christmas letter than a real one, but it does include an actual recap of our year…

2011 was another exciting year in the Kaempfer household!

*In February we got two feet of snow in one night. It was so deep it took all five of us six hours to shovel the driveway. The first few feet were done with some urgency…when a dog’s gotta go, a dog’s gotta go.

*For Lent this year, Rick and Bridget gave up eating meat, drinking alcohol, and yelling at the kids. Just their luck, Lent was 7047 days long this year.

*In June a tornado literally went right down our street, uprooting trees, knocking over power lines, and damaging roofs. It somehow doesn’t sound right anymore to say the boys’ bedrooms look like they were hit by a tornado. Turns out, dirty socks aren’t really a tornado trademark.

*In June the toilet broke because one of the boys tried to flush his vegetables to get out of eating them. Who could have known that a stalk of celery wouldn’t flush?

*In July the family took a 20-hour road trip to Hilton Head Island for a mini-family reunion. Aside from a few jellyfish stings to Sean & Johnny, and an unscheduled emergency stop to get an oil change (something Bridget had clearly told Rick to get before the trip), it was a lot of fun.

*In August Rick took Tommy to see Paul McCartney at Wrigley Field. Tommy loved it! The show set a record for most hits in Wrigley Field by someone not facing Cubs pitching.

*In September Rick had a writing assignment in Italy, and took Bridget along. Unfortunately, in order to make their flight they had to leave Sean’s 9th birthday party in the middle of the party. They’ll be picking up their “Parents of the Year” award later this month.

*In October Tommy turned 16 years old. He’s officially old enough to drive now, but hasn’t even asked if he can take Driver’s Ed. The drivers of Illinois gave thanks on Thanksgiving.

*In November Rick and Bridget celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary. Rick picked her up in a long stretch-limo with a red rose clenched in his teeth, and they danced until dawn. (That, or they had dinner at a restaurant and went to sleep by 9:30. Can’t remember which one.)

*In December Rick’s latest novel “The Living Wills” (co-written with Brendan Sullivan) was released by Eckhartz Press (Rick’s new publishing company). As the co-owner of the press, Rick gets a list of all the credit card purchases every day. A word of warning: He was heard muttering something about keeping a “naughty” and “nice” list based on who is or isn’t buying the book. (For those care at all about being on the nice list, it’s available at

Hope you all have a wonderful holiday season this year, and an even better 2012!

Filed under: parent.

Bye Bye Now

January 3rd, 2012 - By Rick Kaempfer

I probably shouldn’t be so giddy getting the boys ready to return to school today. They don’t seem to share my enthusiasm.

Filed under: parent.

Happy New Year!

January 1st, 2012 - By Rick Kaempfer

I hope everyone has a wonderful New Year!

Father Knows Nothing will return with a brand new column next week.

Filed under: parent.


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