There was very nearly an ugly confrontation at a Fred Meyer store the other day—it’s fortunate old Fred wasn’t there to see it.
Two guys who apparently had never met before came face-to-face in the frozen food aisle.
The men stood staring at each other—thunderstruck, and both scowling—because they were wearing identical t-shirts, with the same wording emblazoned across the front: World’s Greatest Dad!
The men looked like a pair of aging gunfighters with itchy trigger fingers. One store patron ran to get talcum powder—just the thing for for such fingers. But everyone else stood and watched nervously as the men slowly inched closer to each other.
Then, at the last moment, an announcement came over the store intercom: “Attention Fred Meyer shoppers! The world’s greatest deal on corned beef hash is going on right now in our canned food aisle!” The confrontation ended as everyone went scurrying.
But research shows that those two near-combatants were not alone. In fact, there may be thousands of fathers around the nation who own such t-shirts—all worn in the proud belief that the proclamation on the front of the shirt is true and beyond dispute. Their kids gave it to them, after all.
What’s going on here?
I decided to find out with a visit to Dr. Doyle Zissler, who just may be the world’s foremost authority on modern sociological phenomena. As I entered his office, I noticed he was wearing a t-shirt that read: World’s Foremost Authority on Modern Sociological Phenomena.
“We live in a world where everyone feels the need to be the best at something,” Dr. Zissler said, settling behind his desk. “We rarely see men walking around with t-shirts proclaiming: World’s Second-greatest Dad—much less World’s Lousiest Dad.”
The good doctor is right about that. When’s the last time you sat at a stoplight behind a car with a bumper sticker that read: Your Kid’s an Honor Student, Because My Kid Sets the Mean?
Dr. Zissler believes that humans have always had a craving to be exalted. “If ball caps had been invented millions of years ago,” he contends, “there would have been hundreds of cavemen walking around with caps that read: World’s Greatest Homoerectus.
When I was a kid, I remember a group of dads—including my own—all bragging to each other about their respective sons. My dad had nothing particularly impressive to say about me, except that I could do a passable voice impression of a monkey. Other dads offered only slightly better boasts.
Then Tim Arbogast’s dad spoke up. “My boy Tim can really, really eat,” he said, beaming with unmasked pride. “We had chicken pot pies for dinner last night, and my Tim ate five of them!” Every other father was struck speechless—as Mr. Arbogast made no mention of what his other three kids had to eat after Tim did his thing.
But those dads had merely learned what every kid in town already knew: whenever Tim Arbogast was in the school lunchroom, we were in the presence of greatness.
Tim didn’t have wear a t-shirt to advertise the fact. And even if he did, it would have been hard to read it through the pot-pie crumbs.
When I was in college, I received a letter informing me that I had been selected to appear in that year’s edition of Who’s Who in American Colleges. But the thrill was short-lived. I read on and discovered that the honor required a fee of $65. Unfortunately, I was also eligible for Who’s Broke in American Colleges, so $65 was out of the question—and my name was never published in the book. After all, $65 bought a lot of beer.
Dr. Zissler says that the “Who’s Who” title is bogus anyway. “Any award predicated on your ability to pay for it isn’t much of an award,” he maintains. “Besides, I think the correct title should be Whom’s Whom in American Colleges.”
I got a call from my old pal Tim Arbogast recently. He wants to meet up for lunch next week.
Sure am hoping he’s the world’s greatest at picking up the check.