Anyone seen my ‘World’s Greatest Columnist’ shirt?

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There was almost a very ugly confrontation at a Fred Meyer store the other day — I’m just glad 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 – 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. Other store patrons watched nervously as the men slowly walked closer to each other. Luckily, 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 my research shows that those two guys are not alone. 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.

What’s going on here? I decided to find out. I paid a visit to Dr. Ferdinand Zissler, who is the world’s foremost authority on modern sociological phenomena. As I entered his office, I noticed he was wearing a T-shirt reading: 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. “We rarely see men walking around with T-shirts that read: 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 man bragging to a group of other dads about how his son had taken first place in a local swim meet. Another dad chimed in to mention that his kid had been named “Carrier of the Month” by a local newspaper. (I thought it was because he had the most contagious diseases.) Still another proud father crowed about how his offspring had won three blue ribbons at the county fair.

Then Tim Arbogast’s dad spoke up. “My boy Tim can really, really eat,” said Mr. Arbogast, 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.

Those dads had just 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 tell us so; and even if he did, it would have been hard to read it through all 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.

Besides, $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 Tim Arbogast yesterday. He wants to meet up for lunch next week. I hope he’s picking up the check.

Pat Cashman is a writer, actor and public speaker. He can be reached at pat@patcashman.com.


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