I'll never forget my daughter's first day of daycare. She was just going for a few hours in the morning, but I felt as though I were sending her down the river in a basket, to be raised by strangers as I receded from her life forever. As I walked into the YMCA with my precious baby girl in my arms, knowing that I would leave without her, I felt my heart breaking. And I felt panicked for her: Would she feel abandoned when I left? Would she be inconsolable? Would I be letting her down as a mother?
Here is how I envisioned the scene:
Mommy: Ok, baby, it's time for Mommy to say bye-bye. I'll be back very soon.
Baby (bursts into hysterical tears and blurts out something to the effect of . . .) No, Mommy! You can't go! If you leave me alone at such a tender age, I'll suffer severe trauma and develop irreversible trust issues. I'll cry so loudly that everyone in town will know that you've chosen your career over your own child. Plus, I have mixed feelings about my new sippy cup.
Mommy: Oh no! I better take you home right now.
Baby: Yes, I think it's best that I live at home until I'm 45.
Mommy: I love you, baby.
Baby: I love you too, Mommy.
In actuality, the separation went quite smoothly. My daughter was eager to play and barely noticed when I left. Still, I couldn't wait to pick her up three hours later -- and neither could Daddy, who was equally anxious and decided to come along. As we entered the room -- blissfully ready to reunite after our heart-wrenching separation -- my daughter lit up and ran, shrieking with glee... straight to Daddy.
And such was my introduction to a concept that has become a mantra around here: Daddy's the rock star; Mommy's the rock. Baby gets an ouchy? Mommy's there to put on the Band-Aid. Baby gets lonely? Mommy is there to rock her in her arms. Baby wants to fly through the air like a trapeze artist, get tossed like a human cannonball, or be entertained by antics worthy of a red rubber nose and a clown-mobile? Daddy's your man. Mommy may be an omnipresent source of comfort, but when Daddy enters the room, fireworks explode, women swoon, and a hush falls over the crowd as it awaits the breathtaking encore to the most anticipated show in town.
Of course, dads do many prosaic things as well -- my husband manages his fair share of diaper changes, baths, meals, and so on. But, over the years, Daddy has developed a few clearly defined roles that fall distinctly under his domain:
1. Daddy gets the party started. From stand-up comedy to acts of unimaginable physical endurance, Daddy knows how to keep 'em rolling in the aisles and squealing for more (and more and more and more... ). Only Daddy can do 10 push-ups with a small child, a plastic tea kettle, and a fairy princess doll balanced on his back. Only Daddy can hold his breath underwater to the point of lifeguards rushing to the scene -- only to burst to the surface like a trained dolphin, toss our giggling daughter three feet in the air, and catch her heroically in his arms. Only Daddy can tell the same knock-knock joke 10 times in a row and still elicit wild hysterics from the crowd. And if Daddy can do all these things while Mommy takes a nap, even better.
2. Daddy enforces the law. Sure, Mommy may spend all day trying to enforce law and order. She may even score an occasional victory. But as soon as Daddy comes home, there's a new sheriff in town. It's not that Daddy has any special disciplinary tricks that Mommy doesn't; it's just that he's, well, Daddy. Face it: there's a reason why Darth Vader, with his creepy black helmet, deep, menacing tones, and disturbing penchant for planet-wide destruction, turned out to be Luke's father...
3. Daddy delivers. From family pizza night to Monday night football, when food is ordered, Daddy is inevitably the one who brings home the goods. In fact, given how many times Daddy has shown up at the door with a pizza, I'm beginning to think we should start tipping him. Or at least get him a uniform and a little hat...
4. Daddy fixes everything. It doesn't matter that by day Daddy sits behind a computer, or that it's been years since he's popped the hood on the car. If his daughter's pink baby-doll carriage gets a flat tire, or his son's favorite toy piano loses a key, the damaged item is immediately rushed to Shop Dad. Shop Dad is filled with one-armed Barbies, flaccid jack-in-the-boxes, and other cast-off playthings resembling Rudolph's pals from the Island of Misfit Toys. Fortunately, Shop Dad offers infinite hope of resurrection. For, even if Barbie's arm is glued on backwards or Jack bursts from his box five minutes after the music stops, Chief Mechanic Daddy never disappoints.
Yes, dads play a unique role in their children's lives. At times it seems unfair, after nine months of pregnancy, hours of labor, and months of breastfeeding, that Daddy gets so much glory and adoration. Yet there's something really special about watching the man you fell in love with grow into your daughter's hero, or your son's role model. That said, I've learned an important lesson: the first time I pick up my son from daycare, I'm leaving Daddy home.
Excerpted from the book Mommy A to Z: An Encyclopedia of the Joys, Wonders, and Absurdities of Motherhood. Follow Mommy A to Z on Facebook, Twitter, and the Mommy A to Z blog.