Father's Day

“You know how everyone's always saying seize the moment? I don't know, I'm kinda thinking it's the other way around. You know, like the moment seizes us.” R. Linklater

When I first planned this trip I completely forgot about Father's Day so I didn’t add anything special to the itinerary to celebrate. However, it ended up being a day that all men would envy when we found a random street concert, listened to war stories at the Picasso Museum, and caught a cabaret at the Paradis Latin.

While getting ready that morning, my wife and I discussed the parts of Parisian culture we had experienced so far and what was still missing. We settled on a dinner show so we could experience the dancing and drama that a Parisian burlesque show is known for. Since I knew to avoid the commercialized Moulin Rouge due to its catering to the tourist crowd and dumbed down performance, I recommended a more authentic club found in the Paris subreddit, Paradis Latin located near Notre Dame.

The Paradis Latin cabaret club was built in 1889 and is the only theatre built by Gustave Eiffel, for that reason alone I had to see it. The total price for three adults, two children, and a photo souvenir was €400.00 and I reserved our seats that morning for an 8:00 PM showtime.

With our seats reserved, I plotted a course through the city stopping at the Picasso Museum along the way to check out the Guernica exhibit, arguably Picasso’s most famous work. Guernica was painted as a reaction to the Nazi's devastating casual bombing practice on the Basque town of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War. On the way we'd allow Paris to distract us with some shopping, parks, graffiti, and street music, but a day of military stories and beautiful cabaret dancers sounded like one hell of a Father's Day so far.

The price for the Picasso Museum was very reasonable and all kids under 18 were free, on Sundays even adults were allowed in for free. We purchased audio guides, which worked similar to phones, and we could hold the receiver to our ear rather than using headphones. This allowed us to share the device with each other, and the total price was €39.50 which included three audio receivers.

I enjoyed the less-crowded Picasso Museum much more than The Louvre and navigating through the museum told a cohesive story of Picasso's life leading up to Guernica. Arguably his most political work, and created as a symbol of protest, Guernica embodied the essence of French culture perfectly. The audio guide walked us through the different eras of Picasso from his fascination with the color blue, to cubism and surrealism (Guernica), to his melancholic portrait period, and concluding with his personal collection. His growth as an artist, cataloged over the decades passing in each room, was an inspiration. 

“I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it.”

Picasso continually pushed himself to learn new trades and was an avid sculptor and political activist, in addition to being the father of Cubism. Picasso’s Mom was his greatest source of inspiration and continually built him up throughout his career using positive reinforcement, telling him he could be a general if he was interested in war more than painting.

It costs nothing to encourage an artist and I couldn’t help but think about how I’d allow that message to affect me personally as a Father.

After leaving the Picasso Museum we walked around Paris admiring the Invader-style graffiti and stopping at parks along the way. I left my wife and kids to shop and run around the playground while I went to explore Paris solo for a bit. There was a pop-up bicycle repair kiosk down an alley and I heard music in the distance while admiring their artistic-dome of bicycle parts. I followed it like the pied piper and arrived at a closed street where people were  dancing and drinking craft pints. I paid my cup deposit of €2.00 and purchased a local IPA to drink on the nearby stone steps.

I loved how conscious French culture was to waste and the cup deposit also generated less litter in the streets. Apparently if you give people a monetary incentive to protect the environment than most will voluntarily jump at the opportunity. France even plans to introduce penalties increasing the costs of consumer goods with packaging not made of non-recycled plastic.

“France has the only two things toward which we drift as we grow older - intelligence and good manners.” F.S. Fitzgerald

After the rogue concert finished we continued towards the Paradis Latin Theater, even though we’d be arriving about an hour early. The Guerilla rock concert was going to contrast well with the more choreographed performance of the cabaret and I was curious to discover more about the building before showtime.

We turned the street corner to find a small line of people queueing up for the Cabaret, and the crowd was full of French couples in their mid 50s dressed in their finest Parisian wardrobe. On the other hand, I was wearing a wizard t-shirt and the boys had just finished a game of soccer at the park, which was apparent to the bouncer by their grass stains and dirt-covered faces.

The hulking, but extremely well dressed Frenchman, looked at me and said, “Excuse me, this line is only for people attending the cabaret, we do not allow tours of the theater.”

I replied matter of factly, “I know, that’s why we’re here, for the cabaret.”

The bouncer retorted, “Is that what you’re wearing?  I’m going to need to see your tickets.”

Sheepishly realizing the problem, I responded, “I’m sorry, I didn’t know, we can go buy new clothes if necessary.”  My wife then poked me in the back and told me to stop talking.

Exasperated, the bouncer went to escalate the situation to his manager, “Wait here, please.”

The bouncer pulled us out of the line to retrieve permission for our terrible appearance, but to our surprise the manager was more impressed by our thirst for authentic French culture. He applauded our attempt to neutralize stereotypes that Americans were classless prudes, and sat us in the very front row. We piled our shopping bags under the table linen and sat down to order dinner from a less-than enthusiastic waiter.

As we grew more comfortable and had a few glasses of wine, the situational comedy continued to provide stomach-cramping laughs. From the waiters dubious looks when my 6’ 190 lb son ordered a Coca Cola and they referred to him in broken English as ‘the big boy’, to my stepson running back to the table for money to tip the bathroom attendant, it was definitely a night to remember.

There were trapeze artists swinging above our heads, an extremely muscular man swallowed fire within a foot of my wife’s face, and another rode a unicycle while juggling axes. The food was fantastic, and there were mesmerizing stage illusions and stunningly beautiful dancers kicking their legs in hypnotic unison. It was like a circus had a baby with a strip club and then hired broadway professionals to perform it, needless to say the show was spectacular.

We believe it’s futile to shelter our kids from sex or violence in the digital age, and that art is beautiful, so them seeing nudity during the show wasn’t anything too shocking. I’d rather them share the experience with everyone else without being pandered to because of their age, and French culture encouraged that way of thinking. The “helicopter parenting” culture in America, and its inability to see our children as individuals rather than subordinates, is doing irreparable damage to an increasingly broken society. In Paris we saw ten year olds drinking wine and riding the metro alone to school, and they were smarter and more independent because of it.

At the cabaret, my family stood out like a sore thumb in a sea of tuxedos and geriatrics, but the glittered host loved us for it. He came to our table several times to ask our kids questions about where they were from, and my daughter replied that she took dance lessons. He lit up with excitement and even tried to pull her on stage at the end of the performance, however my daughter was rightfully intimidated and froze with stage fright when he motioned for her to come up and participate during the heart of the show. 

After numerous dance recitals, where it’s more about allowing anyone to dance if their parents have enough money, it was nice to show my daughter what true dedication to a craft can lead to if you push yourself. I guess I should’ve been happy that my daughter didn’t want to be a burlesque dancer in that moment, but afterwards we had a great talk about how sometimes in life, when you’re presented with an opportunity and you don’t have much time to think, you need to take a risk and seize the moment. You should never allow fear to paralyze you or it will lead to regret.

We finished the night toasting to our family with some champagne, bottled in Champagne, France, and hopped on the metro back to our apartment to put the kids to sleep. We decided to grab a nightcap at the bar above the Arts et Metiers station, but by the time we sat down it was 1:00 AM and we were feeling guilty for allowing the bustle of the day to distract us from calling our own fathers. Luckily, we were six hours ahead and we’d still have time to call. 

We reached out to my Dad first, and he was just sitting down to dinner with my sister and her family, so I spent more time talking to my niece and nephew. However, afterwards we called my father in law and his words resonated and calmed my paternal anxiety. 

Just as my daughter was afraid to go on stage during the cabaret, I am continually plagued by the fear that I will make the wrong choice or set a bad example for my kids. I’m constantly fighting the urge to farm out my responsibilities to digital babysitters and public school teachers in an attempt to be more present in their lives, even if I make mistakes. In a few sentences my father in law was able to make me forget about my mistakes and gave me a Father’s Day gift I’ll never forget. He simply thanked me for loving his daughter and grandchildren, and in doing so gave me a feeling of confidence that I might be a good dad after all.

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