- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 10, 2001

One of my favorite "Far Side" cartoons shows Abraham Lincoln on a train writing on a piece of paper. At the top of the paper is the punch line to some lame joke, something along the lines of, "So the bartender says to the guy …"

Underneath that, it says, "(Pause for laughter)."

Underneath that, Lincoln writes, "Four score and seven years ago …"

I was reminded of that cartoon for some reason not long ago when 4-year-old Sean told me his first "joke."

"Hey Daddy, " Sean said on the way home from preschool. "I have a joke for you."

A joke? My wallflower son? The one who struggles just looking people in the eye even people he knows?

"What is it? " I asked, somewhat timidly.

"What did the duck have for breakfast?"

"I don't know."

"Lunch and dinner," Sean announced proudly. I managed my best Ed McMahon guffaw and said, "That's funny, Sean. Good one. " Lunch and dinner? … Huh?

"I've got another one," Sean said. "What time is it when an elephant sits on your watch?"

I stifled the urge to jump in with a crushing "I know, I know time to get a new watch," and instead said, "I don't know, Sean. What?"

"Anywhere he wants."

And on it went, all the way home. Joke after joke after joke, all with misplaced, mismatched or slightly misworded punch lines. I played along, drawing A and B columns containing setups and punch lines in my mind, drawing mental lines across the page to match them up, like the matching game books Sean and I do to help him learn the alphabet.

But I couldn't figure out where he was getting these jokes. He can't even read yet. Who was reading all these "Bazooka Joe" level jokes to him?

I told my wife, Lisa, about Sean's Henny Youngman routine that night when she came home from work, starting with the first joke about what the duck had for breakfast.

"I don't know why he didn't say 'quackers,' " Lisa said with a shrug.

"Quackers," I said, slapping my forehead. "So that was the right answer. It's still not funny, but at least it makes sense." Then I paused. "So you're the one teaching him all these jokes?"

"Not me," she said. "But everyone knows the quackers joke."

Well, everyone knows now,I thought.

I still couldn't help marveling at the metamorphosis Sean is undergoing. He has always been a walking definition of a painfully shy child. He actually would glare at neighbors on the street who tried to say hello, much to our consternation and embarrassment. He was a late talker, which didn't help. He seldom wanted to try anything new, whether it was foods or games or friendships.

I'm not sure what happened to him simply getting older, maybe starting school. I suspect the biggest factor was Jeremy.

Jeremy is everything Sean isn't, except in the area of speech, where he unfortunately is exhibiting the same delays. Jeremy is the family daredevil, the climber, the risk-taker, the one who marches confidently into Sunday school class or Mother's Day Out play groups every week with barely a look over his shoulder to say goodbye to Lisa or me.

Jeremy, I think more than anything, has brought Sean out of his shell. Sean loves to make Jeremy laugh, which isn't difficult, because Jeremy laughs at nearly every dopey thing Sean says or does. That, I think, is what started Sean on the road to his stand-up career.

Recently, we enrolled Sean in a beginner's gymnastics class at the local aquatic and gymnastics center. There was a time not long ago when we would have worried that Sean simply would sit there, hug his knees and glower at the instructor for the first week or two. Not the new and improved Sean. That Sean not only jumped on the trampoline and did the forward rolls and walked on the balance beam, he quickly put his new skills to use at home on the sofa and other furniture.

Of course, Jeremy refused to be left out of the gymnastics equation, so before long we had him enrolled in a "Mommies and Me" program, even though he's technically still a bit young to be in the class.

So now our days are filled with pulling the Wallenda boys off the furniture and marveling at how easily and effortlessly a precocious toddler could pull his big brother out of his isolation booth. We still haven't figured out what to do about the awful jokes, though.

Except call the writers for "The Geena Davis Show."

Mark Stewart is the father of two boys, Sean and Jeremy. He is a staff writer for The Family Times. He can be reached at [email protected]

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