Saturday, February 20, 2010

Dads and Daughters

One of the nice things for me about going to a church that has lots of young families in it is getting to know other dads that are at a similar point in their lives as I am. It has been meaningful to get to know these other men, and to observe how they parent their kids and in general what their approach is to child-rearing and discipline. The dads I seem to relate to the most are, not surprisingly, like me: not ones to coddle their children, they are firm and disciplinary, and care most about raising kids who are tough and who can take care of themselves.

And yet. When it comes to our lovely daughters, sometimes we can make exceptions. Sometimes we can cave to their cuteness, and replace our usually stern demeanors with a more accommodating, dare I say spoiling countenance.

All the snow on the ground provides some excellent cases in point. We dads are not one to pull the old “when I was a kid, we walked five miles in the snow uphill both ways” routine. But neither are we going to baby our kids to the point that they become soft and doughy and whiny and entitled. So we bundle them up for their safety, and we don’t play fast and loose with their wellbeing; but we do send them out in the cold, we do let them feel the sting of winter wind for an extra minute if they’re being obstinate about putting on their hat and gloves, and we do make them walk back up the hill after they have ridden their sled down the hill.

But when it comes to our little girls, we also have our tender moments. On a recent outing with me and my kids, one dad pulled his daughter in the driving snow in a wagon that doubled as a mobile bedroom: one set of blankets under his little girl, jackets piled on top and around her so she could lie down and stay warm and not get jostled around. As the other kids mushed it through the snow, his little girl slept securely amidst all the blankets and jackets.

As for me, my spoiling moments have seemed to come during our morning commutes to school. Normally, Amy takes Jada to school, by car, and I take Aaron to school, on foot. But some days, whether it is because Aaron is home for the day or it is easier for Amy to take him to school instead of Jada, it has fallen on me to get Jada to school. And, partly to leave the car at home for Amy, and partly because I hate driving, especially in the snow, Jada and I use public transit to make the trek. Only Jada’s school isn’t nearly as transit-accessible: the easiest route, the 31 bus, is currently detoured because of all the snow, so absent that option, whether I take a bus or the subway, we usually have to hoof it for almost a mile once we get off.

The last couple of times, here’s how it’s worked. Jada and I will walk the half-mile from our house to the subway station. We ride for a short spell and then have a good mile to go from the subway stop to her school. At this point, I hoist Jada on my shoulders and carry her that mile. And not only so, but I let her eat her snack while she is perched up there on my shoulders. The last couple of times, that snack has been cheddar-flavored Sun Chips. So picture the scene: dad in a suit, sliding around because his dress shoes have no traction, wind whipping in his face and snot dripping from his nose, while daughter gets a free ride on his shoulders, taking in the sights and munching on Sun Chips all the way.

One of my co-workers, who is a grandmother of five and well-versed in the ways of spoiling, has taken to teasing me about this when I arrive in the morning. And I can’t hide when I’ve done this, not with cheddar crumbs on my winter hat. Oh well, the dads in my church will back me up on this one: we won’t coddle our kids, but we will every once in a while go out of our way to take care of our little girls.
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