Photo: Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images
I had never been to Nantucket until I was in my mid to late 30s, but over the years it has become a favorite destination for my family. It’s this gorgeous, historic island that, as wealthy as it probably is, doesn’t feel like Cape Cod or the Hamptons. It’s got a real distinctive style—it retains a lot of its original charm from when it was a whaling community with adorable shops and good restaurants and good beaches. And when you have little kids, anything with water is good.
The first time we went was in 2006, when we rented a cute little house that some friends of mine often stayed at. My wife and I took my son, who was around 5, and our daughter, who was just a baby. Back then, my son traveled with three important items. There was Blanky, which was, as you can imagine, his blanket; there was Beary, who was, as you can imagine, his stuffed bear; and then there was Bunny, who was, if you can picture this, his stuffed bunny. (He was not the most imaginative namer of things.) Beary and Blanky had to travel with us, but they didn’t need to be with us at every moment. Bunny, on the other hand, was with us at every moment … until, suddenly, he wasn’t.
We’d been on the beach all day, sunning ourselves, and we went across the island for dinner. We took a cab home, and by the time we got back, it was super-late—10 or 11 at night. After the cab pulled away, we realized we no longer had Bunny in our possession.
My son was in hysterics, asking, “Where’s Bunny? What happened to Bunny? Why don’t we have Bunny? ” We quickly surmised that Bunny must have been left in the cab. My son was morose and weeping, shuddering and sobbing—just really heartbroken and kind of panicked.
I, however, was exhausted from traveling with children and being outside all day, and my take on the situation was, You will survive fine without Bunny. We didn’t know who the driver was, we didn’t know what the cab company was, and I didn’t know how we were gonna possibly get Bunny back. I was thinking, You’re 5; you don’t need Bunny as much as you think you need Bunny.
I probably said it more gently than that, but my wife was still looking at me like I was the worst human being who had ever strode this earth. I was like, “Can we deal with this—if we’re going to deal with it at all, which I’m fine with us not dealing with it at all—tomorrow? ” My son, meanwhile, had never slept without Bunny. For my son, there would be no sleep if we didn’t get Bunny back. So my wife said, “First of all, I’m gonna divorce you when this is over; second of all, I’m gonna call every single cab company on the island of Nantucket to see if we can figure out who the driver was, and if they have Bunny, and if we can get Bunny back.” And I said, “What you’re describing isn’t possible.” The divorce part was possible, but the rest of it was not possible. I was so annoyed. I was just stewing.
But my wife got on the phone, started calling cab companies, and somehow, within the hour, Bunny was back in my son’s arms. And the gratitude he felt—toward my wife, not toward me, of course, as I hadn’t earned his gratitude in any way, shape, or form—was overwhelming. The crisis was over, the problem was solved, the vacation could be enjoyed.
Once my son got his stuffed animal back, I realized what a complete heel I had been, and how badly I had let him down. For me, this was a petty annoyance; for him, it was like losing his best friend, and I was utterly indifferent to his suffering. I had fallen into the trap that so many generations before me had fallen into, which is, essentially, saying to my son, “Man up. Stop acting like a baby and just deal with it.” In that moment, I realized that I was being a bad dad. (And I was doing all the things that I would later write about in my book.) If it had been my daughter, for example, I think I probably would have been more sympathetic. My own latent sexism showed up in a totally unexpected way at this little house on Nantucket, and it was illuminating for me.
Michael Ian Black’s new book, A Better Man: A (Mostly Serious) Letter to My Son, is out now from Algonquin Books