When the Princess was born, he cried. It’s the only time I’ve ever seen him cry from happiness. They have a special bond, those two. When I was at my part-time job and Princess was about three, I’d call and ask what they did together. “We sat in the field and looked at the sky,” Princess would report, and really, what could be more wonderful than that?
When Dearest Son was born (emergency c-section, me very, very sick and maybe dying, our son weighing in at 1 pound, 10 ounces), he stayed calm. He was a frickin’ rock, that guy, and when I came out of my seizures every once in a while, I could only ask one question: “The baby…?” wondering if our son was still alive. “Oh, he’s doing great!” my husband would say. “I was just up there, tickling his feet, and he’s really squirmy and lively. Don’t worry.” I would sink back into the nether world for another long while. He never doubted that Dearest would make it.
Dearest was small for his age for a long time. When McIrish taught him to ride a bike, he’d put his hand out on Dearest’s shoulder and steady him, giving him a push up the hill. When Dearest fell, McIrish would scoop him up and praise him for his bravery, and put him right back on that bike. If there’s a better metaphor for fatherhood, I don’t know what it is.
He made up two strange games for the kids, that only a father could make up. One was called “Wake Up Daddy,” in which he would pretend to sleep and snore loudly as the kids tickled him and wormed their little hands under his shirt to pull his chest hair, and he would laugh and laugh but never open his eyes. The other game was called Wild Pig Ride. The kids would sit on him and he’d buck and jump and they’d scream with joy (and I’d stand by with my hand on the phone in case we needed an ambulance). But everyone was always okay, as it tends to be when a daddy horses around with his kids in a way that a mommy never would.
At the first Father-Daughter Dance, when Princess was a freshman in high school, he bought her a corsage, and they both got all dressed up. But she twisted her ankle going out of the house, spraining it, so he carried her back inside, iced and wrapped the ankle, then went out and got them Indian take-out, her favorite. They watched a movie and declared the night much more fun than if they’d gone to the dance.
When we took Princess to college last fall, he was pretty stoic, comforting me the whole ride back, until we turned onto our street, going home without her for the first time. The tears came then. “I can’t believe our little girl is so grown up,” he said, as fathers have said for thousands of years.
When we go to a track meet and Dearest chugs stolidly to the finish line, usually the last of his team, McIrish cheers for him as if he’s about to win the gold medal. Unlike some fathers, McIrish isn’t invested in our son’s athletic prowess. The fact that our boy is there, alive, healthy, amiable and (to our eyes, anyway), running like the wind is more than enough.
Here’s to all you dads out there who are doing it right. Wishing you a nap and lots of hugs and maybe a piece of pie, too.