Horseplay U.

"College prep" means something completely different for teen-age boys.

Sure, boys need the same preparation as girls when it comes to academics and ambition. But they also need something more, and they get it from their dads.

This came to mind recently as my wife and I watched our two teen-aged sons chase around the kitchen, popping one another with damp dishtowels. My wife said to me, "You've prepared them well for life in a dorm."

I felt so proud.

The past generation or two have represented a grand social experiment, with dads taking on more of the child-rearing responsibilities. These days, millions of kids (including mine) grow up with dads who work at home. Who knows how these kids will turn out?

Most dads didn't grow up focused on the idea that we'd someday care for rugrats. We didn't necessarily learn the skills to be good parents. We assumed our wives would take care of all that.

Babies arrived, and we found ourselves adrift in an ocean of bottle formula and amoxicillin and dirty diapers. That's enough to send most men screaming back to the nearest traditional workplace, but some of us continued to stay home, only to find that toddlers can effortlessly cause insanity in others.

The school years are pretty much the same for all parents. We work like crazy, trying to keep the little beggars in groceries and clothes, then spend whatever time is left on nurturing and housework and driving to soccer games. The only difference for us stay-at-home types is that it's usually easier for us to structure our workday around orthodontist appointments.

Overall, the Dad Experiment is working. Our houses may be dirtier, our kids may be wilder, and more meals originate in the microwave, but we manage, week to week, to keep the household healthy and intact.

If fathers excel in one area, that's in the horseplay department. When you have a dad who's home all the time, horseplay rules.

When the kids are both boys, as at our house, well, let's just have a moment of silence for poor mom. She's been outnumbered since the get-go. She's forced to act as the one sane person in a loony bin of rambunctious males.

When the kids were little, my wife smiled serenely while they sat on my back and I galloped around the room on all fours. She kept that look frozen on her face as the kids and I wrestled on the hardwood floor. She sighed as we played "monster," chasing through the house, crashing into walls and leaping over furniture.

As they got older, our horseplay grew up, too. Slap fights and tickle torture and insulting patter and armpit noises and water balloons and booby traps. When mom's not around to moderate this testosterone madhouse, we males quickly devolve into The Three Stooges. It's a wonder we don't spend more time at the emergency room.

Other dads teach their kids to fish or fix cars or shoot free throws. I've taught mine how to wield a towel in locker room fights. Our boys both pop a mean towel, and I've got the welts to prove it. The sacrifices we make for our children…

When our sons go off to college, they'll have the skills necessary for dorm life. They can hold their own when towel fights erupt. They know how to use a microwave and a toilet plunger. They know how to play poker (so your kids better hold tight to that tuition money). They can short-sheet a bed. They know more insults than Don Rickles.

I've done my daddy duty. Nyuk-nyuk.

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