The following happened in three seconds and stayed with me all day.
Standing 5 foot 9 inches, weighing in at 165 pounds, wearing a Stanford Law School T-shirt, jeans, and flip flops – master of corporate complexities, completely evolved male of the new millennium is 34-year-old Dad.
Standing 2 foot 3 inches, weighing 40 pounds, apple of parents' eye, on course for high school valedictorian class of 2021, is 4-year-old daughter.
Starbucks – upscale, busy, Saturday morning. Dad, having peeled off the corporate suit for the week, is having alone time with daughter. All parental decisions rest on his capable shoulders...
The slippery cream cheese-covered bagel tumbles from small hands and lands on the floor. The clock begins:
The first half second is completely wasted. Dad is clueless – unaware the event happened at all. Where Mom would have anticipated the misstep, caught the bagel, and handled a ringing cellphone while moving the team seamlessly out the door, Dad is lost, dreaming of his tee time tomorrow.
But – driven by the fear that should anything go amiss on this short journey he will bear the responsibility for a lifetime – Dad has quickly discerned something terribly wrong in the bagel transport department. The master of business, top in his class at law school, recruited by 12 Fortune 500 companies – the man the CEO comes to when everything goes wrong – is panicked. Large brown eyes look up to him for guidance.
Crisis mode. The wheels of thought are turning – is there a legal precedent here? Wasn't there a case in law school – Brown v. Bagel Bunker? Brown sued Bagel Bunker because the bagel was too hot and ... wait! He is Dad now and not a lawyer. Clarity. Solve the problem – that's what males are known for. Claim your destiny.
The pressure of a child looking up at you is unbearable. Come on, buddy, you can do it! You represent all males here! Use the force, Luke! Think!
The bagel is on the floor. The floor is not too dirty. It is an upscale Starbucks, not an alley. Pick it up and hand it back to the daughter and move on. But what if she tells Mom? He could be in the doghouse for days! Years! Gaggles of mothers in an Oprah audience hearing how he gave his daughter the floor-slimed bagel.
No! Throw it away. Write it off as a loss. Wait! The thing cost $2.50. And throwing it away could cause crying. Having a daughter run to Mom sobbing, "Daddy threw my bagel away," Mom's eyes glaring at him – no, throwing it away is not an option.
2.5 seconds gone...
The daughter has noted his hesitation. Mom would never have hesitated. Mothers are always certain, even when they aren't. She has learned a big lesson here – Mom knows what she's doing, Dad doesn't.
He could eat the bagel! It's not too dirty for him and it won't go to waste. But he would have to buy a second bagel, and what if she wanted this particular bagel? She's 4 – she might have named it! There is no path to safety! He's doomed...
"Daddy, three-second rule..."
The words jerk him out of his stupor. "Three-second rule." That sounds familiar... Hope...
"Mommy says if it's on the floor for less than three seconds, it's OK to eat."
Salvation, redemption, safety. It's as if the Supreme Court has just passed out a favorable ruling – the magic words "Mommy said" followed by a clear course of action.
"Of course, the three-second rule, sweetie," he said handing her the bagel, "Daddy invented it."
• Peter Crabbe, a comedy writer, lives in Los Angeles.