Even before my daughter could talk, she found ways to express a preference for her father. Nearly every time my husband and I approached her crib together, her little arms reached out in his direction. I may have been jealous, but I didn't blame her.
My husband was a gentle clown-of-a-father, a veritable laid-back Robin Williams. He made action figures out of Play-Doh, and Lego towers so beautiful, we couldn't take them apart. He didn't just read stories, he made them up. All of his characters had different voices, including the dozen or so plastic people who lived on a Fisher-Price boat in our tub. I could never keep their names straight, but they had this elaborate little life, with diving contests and barbecues.
By contrast, I made a pathetic playmate. I loved to read to my daughter, but I couldn't do the voices like Daddy. My skills with construction paper and scissors fall somewhere in the nonexistent range. When her artistic abilities surpassed mine sometime during nursery school, my child began to offer constructive comments. ("Mommy, did you want your kitty to look so mean?")
Music is the one area where I can usually outdo my husband. I spent a long time thinking of soothing songs to sing at bedtime. I came up with two: The Beatles' "Goodnight" and "Baby Mine." They went over like Mister Rogers reruns. The first night when I tried out "Baby Mine," my daughter asked, "Isn't that the song when they take Dumbo away from his mommy?" I just had to face the fact that my child had plush toys with pull-strings in their necks that were more entertaining than I was.
The summer before first grade, my daughter broke down before bed one night as she tried to explain to us, in sobbing little hiccuping sentences, that she had "forgotten how to use the cafeteria." Apparently, some genius of higher learning had herded a group of five-year-olds through the dreaded cafeteria in June, and explained that they were expected to remember the process in September.
My husband and I had very different reactions to this crisis. I wanted to exact personal revenge ("Can you tell Mommy what the teacher looked like who showed you the cafeteria?"). But my husband invented a bedtime story about a little pink teddy bear named Peaches, who had a best friend named Becky (my daughter's name), and who by some strange coincidence had forgotten how to use the cafeteria at her school.
So began the interactive adventures of Peaches, a Care Bear with an attitude, and her best buddy, Beck. While Peaches was always getting herself into some kind of jam, Beck had a knack for damage control.
In one hilarious episode, which occurred about the same time that real-life Beck was considering a career in cosmetology, Peaches went to beauty school and had a tragic hair-coloring accident. While experimenting on herself, Peaches accidentally dyed her fur blue and it all fell out, prompting Peaches and Beck to rethink beauty school.
I sometimes stood in the hallway outside my daughter's room, listening to the sound of my husband's soothing baritone as he deftly calmed my daughter's darkest fears Like Luke Skywalker on a mission, he couldn't always see the monsters, but "the force" was with him as he guided her to safety every time. I'm beholden to him, in awe of his skill.
As for me, I always knew that my maternal usefulness would peak as my child got older. And I still remember a day, about five years ago, when the phone rang and my husband and I picked up at the same time.
"Dad?" I heard my daughter say. "What's wrong, Beck?" my husband asked.
"I have a problem with a friend at school," she said. And then, "Is Mom there?"
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society