In the beginning, fathers embarrass their sons. Later, sons embarrass their fathers.
And if embarrassing your son is cool, my dad was Miles Davis.
For some kids, their dads yell too loud at a soccer game. For others, dad oversteps from chaperoning to moonwalking at the middle school dance. For some, it’s post-workout grunting while stretching when attractive members of the opposite sex are nearby. Any dad can identify the goldmine of embarrassment opportunities in those scenarios.
It is the truly elite dads, however, who can McGyver up embarrassment from the most routine, socially safe interaction. Just when it appears that there is no activation potential anywhere in a particular social exchange, they find a way to spark eyerolls.
My father is one of these elite embarrassers.
His specialty was introductions. Whenever he introduced me to someone, he always found a way to make me cringe.
His go-to move was what my college friends called the Jim Houser Hello. It started with a warm, overly eager look in his eyes. I was a sullen, thinks-he’s-cool-but-really-isn’t teenager and my pop’s Ned Flanders act was really cramping my style.
When the introduction began, he would extend his hand for the handshake.
So far, so good. All systems normal.
As soon as his hand made contact with the other person, he transformed. His belly popped out and his face, which had resembled a normal human face up to that point, contorted into an impressive country grin.
It wasn’t intentional. It wasn’t studied. Like Miles Davis, he was playing from the heart. The great ones just let the feeling channel through them. And that’s what my dad achieved as a world class embarrasser. Note that he would’ve been much cooler if it was playing the trumpet instead of embarrassing me.
It was also what he said.
“HAAAHH, JIM HOUSER!,” he would bellow.
He couldn’t do a simple “hello.” He wouldn’t go for a “nice to meet you.” Nope. He has to let loose with a drawn out, countrified “Hi” followed by his name WITH THE VOLUME AT 11.
It was also important that he state his name, even if he had met the person several times. Eventually, I started keeping a tally like an inmate marking the days on prison walls, enduring a terrible experience until it finally ends. I can still taste the frustration—It’s the fourth time you’ve met this person!! They know your name!!
And then the reversal happened and I started embarrassing him.
Raised in the south, my folks emphasized etiquette and manners. By the time I was in my early 20s, I was sick of it. My family started calling me “the savage” because of just how much I disdained proper table etiquette. Dad really cringed at this.
He was also not crazy about when I enlisted him in the mockumentary I filmed about our family’s annual pie contest, The Pie Olympics. He got downright angry when our dog knocked over the lighting in the middle of filming (which made the final cut!).
In high school, he picked me up at a gas station at 4:00 AM after the cops caught me and some hooligan friends after we had christened ourselves the “stealth club,” wore all black, and destroyed public property.
But then another reversal happens.
I realized that when my dad leads his interactions with over-the-top warmth, it’s a gift he’s giving the world. I realized that physicality and outsized body language can give others space to feel comfortable—after all, if he’s letting it all hang out, others can too. I realized that repeating my name whenever I meet someone—even if I’ve met them three or four times before—is an act of kindness for people who struggle with names.
I learned that it’s not about me. It’s about serving others.
It’s a beautiful reversal.
On a pretty regular basis, I introduce myself “HAAAHH, CAM HOUSER!”
Love you, Dad.