The father of a daughter is nothing but a high-class hostage. A father turns a stony face to his sons, berates them, shakes his antlers, paws the ground, snorts, runs them off into the underbrush, but when his daughter puts her arm over his shoulder and says, ‘Daddy, I need to ask you something,’ he is a pat of butter in a hot frying pan. —Garrison Keillor
Father’s Day can sometimes be a bit rough. I have three boys but haven’t lived with any of them for the past 11 years. I hold a lot of well-deserved guilt for not being there at times they really needed me, when the decisions were hard, when the circumstances were impossible to understand. There have been times they challenged whether I loved them. My record is far from perfect but I’m still proud of the young men they’ve become.
But then, I have two more. Biologically, I had absolutely nothing to do with their appearance on the planet. I thought I was done having kids 18 years ago. The universe intervened, however. Now, Kat regularly looks over at me, usually with one or the other of them in my lap, and reminds me, “They’re yours.”
Being a parent of young ones at an age where my peers are having grandchildren is challenging. I can’t run races or get down in the floor and wrestle like I did with my boys. They’re getting the well-used version of a Daddy and I sometimes wonder if that’s not cheating them a bit. Kat is quick to remind me, though, they chose me. The decision to call me Daddy was totally theirs.
Actually, the whole “Daddy” thing was a point of great concern. Tippy was two and Little Man had just turned four when I met Kat. They saw their bio-dad for what may be the last time shortly after Tippy turned three, and that wasn’t an especially pleasant visit. Tipster has no memory of the trip at all. The portion Little Man remembers is not positive. We were very concerned, though, that the decision of what to call me be theirs and no one else’s.
This took some time. Calling me by my name was easy. I was just another friend except that I never went away. Ever. There were times that made discipline difficult. Little Man would come back with “You’re not my Dad,” and I’d have to agree with him. More than once he asked when they were going to take me back home. But that hole was there in their lives and slowly, quietly, despite all the yelling and slammed doors, they’ve let me fill that space.
Getting along with Little Man has been one thing, but learning to deal with a little girl is a whole new experience. I’ve not had one of these before, and she is definitely a very different personality from her brother. Her imagination is off the charts. She sings herself to sleep at night. The more tired she is, the more she giggles. She loves to be tickled, loves having books read to her, and more than anything, she loves sitting in my lap.
She is the spitting image of her Mommy. Put pictures of her, Kat, and her grandmother next to each other and you can only tell the difference by the age of the photos. She’s like her mother in other ways, too, that don’t necessarily work when one is six. She’s stubborn. She wants to do things her own way. She’s confident and doesn’t need you to tell her what to do. She can be defiant in the face of authority and she’s not taking crap off of anyone, especially her brother. Those will all eventually become admirable traits as she becomes a young woman but right now, and especially at bedtime, we often wish she were a little more compliant.
It took a while for Tippy to get used to me. When I first moved in, she was still sleeping in her crib at night and needed help getting out of the morning. Several months passed before she would let anyone but Mommy be that morning person. She didn’t want to hold my hand. She clung tightly to Mommy, which might have been endearing except for those moments when Mommy’s hands were already full. She regarded me with caution for the first year and more. That was okay. We knew that both kids would have to adjust at their own pace.
When we noticed her changing, though, was when both she and Kat started school last fall. At school, they would talk about families and other kids had a Daddy. Then, when she came home from school, I was the only one here. Mommy usually wouldn’t get home until well after she was in bed for the night. I helped with her homework, made sure she had clean clothes, let her take long baths with her toys, and tucked her in for the night. Slowly, she would occasionally call me Daddy, but usually, it was quiet. You could hear the uncertainty in her voice.
After the kids changed schools, we noticed a difference. She was more confident in how she referred to me, not only around her peers, but anywhere, with anyone. If someone would ask her who I was, she would grin mischievously and say, “Oh, that’s just my Daddy.”
The biggest confirmation came just this past week. Kindergarten graduation. The event was held mid-morning, when a lot of parents couldn’t be there, including Tippy’s Mommy. The Tipster was incredibly excited, though. She woke up bouncing with anticipation that morning. As I put her on the school bus, I reminded her I would be there. I wasn’t sure how she would respond. During the event, she would flash me an occasional smile, but was being very careful to follow the instructions her teacher had given. When they called her name, I was the only one who yelled for her, and she looked more perturbed than pleased.
After the event, I went to her room fully expecting to have to remind her that Mommy was at school. All the other kids seemed to have their entire extended families there, some with balloons and stuffed animals. How could I possibly compete with that? Then, as I walk into the classroom, Tippy looks up, her face brightens, and she screams, “DADDY!!!” at the top of her lungs and she runs into my arms. The hugs were big. She kissed all over my face. She showed me her diploma then had to show me her entire classroom.
If there was any question remaining, that moment cleared up the doubt. I have a daughter. We call her Tippy. She calls me Daddy.
Happy Fathers Day.