This is an excerpt from my treatise on the subject The Father of the Bride Guide.
If you’re reading this it will be assumed that you are an expectant father. Expectant, that is, since the apple of your eye (or one of them as the case may be) is engaged and you are expecting to foot the bill. Congratulations. It’s almost certainly been a multiple decade gestation, but, your labor is almost over. It’s the fruits of that labor you’re about to miss…
Sit down. Pour yourself a drink. Kick your feet up, and reflect on all that is right with the world. Your beloved daughter has found the man of her dreams—with any luck he’s exactly like you, and if he isn’t you have the rest of your life to make him that way or find a replacement for him—and if she was living at home your grocery bills are about to go down. On the other hand it must be admitted that your phone bills are about to go up. For some reason mothers are required to speak to married daughters on a more regular basis than unmarried ones. I have a hunch that has to do with having an additional man to make fun of, but that’s just a theory. In any case you will now have one less female to worry about as another male will be there for her to call at three o’clock in the morning when she’s five hundred miles away and has a flat tire. If he calls you that situation will be covered in another how-to book.
Allow the liquor to work as you reminisce on what a fine job you’ve done in raising your child—don’t mention aloud what a fine job you’ve done, just glow, and your wife will assume your feelings match hers for the first time in your relationship (who knows, you may get lucky). Consider yourself blessed that your daughter has not run off to an Ashram in Bangladesh, is not doing time for dealing Meth, in a cell with a woman named Cong, nor is she a door-knocker for the Friends of David Koresh. You have done well, my friend. Bask in it while you may, and take heart that soon you will have grandchildren, and you can spend your advancing years smiling broadly and explaining to your daughter that, “The repair won’t cost you that much, and they were only her baby teeth.”
Of course it is assumed that you are already there, but after some consideration I decided that it might not be a bad thing to look back on how you got here (which may serve as a guideline to others when you generously pass this book along so that I don’t get any royalties, you ungrateful putz). If you wish you may skip over this chapter, but then you’re going to miss a lot of great memories we can share, both of us having successfully matriculated through the poopy parts, so to speak.
This all started the day your daughter was born. If you are like most fathers you didn’t quite know what to make of her. She couldn’t walk, couldn’t talk, had no affinity whatsoever for barbeque, contact sports, or fast cars (which made conversation irrelevant, anyway), and—let’s face it—she pooped her pants. Now that is just downright disgusting, I don’t care who you are. Men are born with an innate sense of wrongness, and the odor of human doodoo sets it off like the smell of a fart in an elevator. Actually the two are closely related and why men prefer jobs on the ground floor. Show me a man who has one of those corner offices on the penthouse level, and I’ll show you a man with either a deviated septum or a personal elevator. Peeing your pants is one thing. Heck, we’ve all done it, right? Don’t tell me you never woke up with a toilet seat around your neck, shaving cream all over your freshly shaven chest, and sodden Levis, dude. I’m not buying it.
Thankfully women are born with a poop filter so they don’t mind changing dirty diapers. This is another of those issues you should not speak aloud, however. There will be several of them in this book. You may want to highlight them.
So, there you are, trying to make sense of this bundle of joy with which you have just been presented, and while you may actually be beginning to feel some sort of swelling in your chest that this tiny creature is truly yours (stipulating that you’re certain of that, of course), some family geek is almost sure to mention college. Pay them no mind. If you started saving for her college at that very moment by the time she was enrolled–what with inflation and the inevitable rise in tuition–you would still be bankrupt. So there’s no point in worrying about it. Better to spend the money now and enjoy it rather than berate yourself eighteen years later for what a lousy father you’ve been. Your daughter will find myriad ways of letting you know that over those next eighteen years, anyway.
No, enjoy the infant and toddler period. Occasionally try to change a pee-stained diaper. Your wife will appreciate it, and–if you practice your gagging–will soon quit asking you to perform the impossible.
Toddlers can even be fun. In fact there is no end to the enjoyment many fathers get from them. Toddlers, for instance, can be subjected to the same stupid practical joke over and over without ever becoming irate or for that matter even catching the joke—yet they will often laugh at themselves so you know they aren’t Republicans. If you have one at home now try it for yourself. Help your toddler up on the sofa with you (better not to be distracted during this technique. At the very least turn the volume down on Monday Night Football. Not too low though or your wife will realize something is amiss, and this isn’t a mother-type exercise).
Now, find some bright bauble that tweaks the kid’s interest. Anything will suffice. Toddlers are like crows. You can keep them entertained for hours with a ball of foil or old shell casings. Once you have the kid’s attention take the toy away from her and drop it off the edge of the couch. Give her a second to realize that it isn’t going to magically reappear and that you are not going to go get it. Eventually curiosity will get the better of her, and she’ll lean over to look. That’s when you shove her over.
You gotta catch her, of course, or else the game changes from one between you and your daughter to one between you and your wife. I could write another book on those, too, and maybe I will someday. Suffice it to say those sorts of games are to be avoided if possible and leave it at that for now, but it boils down to this; mothers and fathers play completely different sorts of games, with their kids. While fathers understand the kootchiekoo, smoochie, nose rubbing, touchy feely antics of motherly gaming they are just slightly nauseated by them. Mothers, on the other hand, have no clue whatsoever about the bonding going on during father/daughter game playing. If caught in the act by a mother you will see in their eyes that your innocent father/daughter interplay is looked upon as some sort of Satanic ritual, and pal, you ain’t getting lucky that night. On the other hand other men are quite pleased to be included in the fun, and I can guarantee that you will find no lack of friends who will be happy to shove your child off the couch long after you have tired of the game.
Somehow even girl toddlers understand all this on some sort of psychic subconscious level (at what age they begin to forget is a subject for a study that some male psychologist should undertake), and if the mother—father/daughter—game interaction should occur you may witness one of nature’s true miracles; the genesis of the girl/woman. Yes, even at that early age the woman-future resides within the child-now. If you should find yourself in the position (hand outstretched, toddler hanging precariously over coffee table, your other hand still on the remote) don’t simply fall into sputter-mode. Do yourself a favor and observe not only the mother but the child.
Bear in mind that up until this crucial moment your toddler has been giggling incoherently like Lindsay Lohan hitting the nitrous again. She loves nothing more than the roller coaster sense of falling into danger only to be caught safely every time, and she’s literally wearing your arm out. She’s going so far as to throw the toy off the couch herself! Yet in that instant when time freezes and all eyes focus on MOTHER she begins to shriek.
The bonding is over. She has turned on you.
Before, there was one child and one man in the room. Now there are two women who both know on some level below their cerebral cortex that men are not to be trusted with anything more valuable than a damp dishtowel. When the child is jerked away you will be surprised that the toddler’s neck is not broken by the traumatic force, yet she will cuddle into her mother’s arms, and there they are, back to the kootchiekootchie. If you truly are a newbie reading this for future reference then simply note here that nausea is a major part of fatherhood and accept it.
If you’re not a newbie, though, you know that by this point you love the little critter or else you’d have long since either run off to Bermuda with that checkout girl from the liquor store or be stone dead on the bathroom tiles having left the kid one more shell casing to play with. They’re hard not to love since they so often want to please, which is not necessarily true during later parts of their life cycle (and certainly wasn’t only months earlier). Almost as soon as a toddler starts to walk they are bringing you beers from the fridge even if some of them are can-bombs by the time you get them. You have to believe that it’s the thought that counts and accept that a wet-sticky t-shirt is much easier to live with if it smells like Bud-Lite than if it has the aroma of secondhand smashed peas or much worse. Of course sometimes you’re going to get handed a beer by a little girl who smells like the wrong end of a gassy horse. If you’re like me that’s going to put you off the suds for a few minutes.
In fact, except for potty training toddlers learn so fast it’s incredible, some would say annoying. You may want to review your vocabulary, for example, or else risk having a three-year-old who is not welcome on the waterfront or at hockey games. Still, to my mind there’s nothing quite so funny as a little girl smiling at the preacher who has stopped by for lunch (and to casually mention how he’d love to see BOTH of you some Sunday) and telling him in all seriousness that her daddy says to %^$% off. You just can’t buy entertainment like that. If your daughter mentions that Mommy uses that word all the time that’s just an extra-pointer.
Toddlers learn mostly by doing, though, which can be problematic if you’re one of those guys who tends to leave stuff laying about like butcher-knives, screwdrivers, cigarette lighters or handguns. You’re just going to have to make a change in your lifestyle at least until the kid reaches what parents refer to as the Age of Reason, say around twenty. Until then the knives need to be either in the drawer or the sink, the screwdriver in your tool kit, lighter in your pocket, and your Desert Eagle 44-magnum semi-auto back in the glovebox where it belongs. I will say, though, that all us guys know what a memorable experience it can be to shove a butter-knife into an electrical outlet. Mothers don’t understand some of the memories they deprive their children of by overprotecting them.
It’s difficult to speak of toddlers learning without broaching the question that the very world itself seems to be battling with today. To spank or not to spank. So, I’ll just leap right in here and say, oh, hell, swat the little twit on the tookus if she needs it.
Wow. I can feel the earth shaking under my feet. I hear the villagers outside. The dancing shadows cast through my window by their torches are actually quite entrancing.
Let me allay a few of the more reasonable of the mob by saying I am not speaking here of a beating, nor am I referring to anything requiring a tool. Neither do I support the practice of striking a child on a bare bottom nor more than once on a covered one. I am referring to what many call a swat. As a matter of fact that’s what I call it. Go figure.
Look. I was subjected to bare bottom tool use. I know from remarks around the family that it happened more than once. But I don’t recall but one instance of it, and I certainly was not traumatized. I can assure you, though, that my behavior thereafter was more exemplary, at least in the short term (my behavior has never been exemplary long term). That being so, (and since not one of my daughters ever remembers being swatted) I fear I must believe the practice is not abusive, and I will happily take a day or two with you if you’d like to argue its efficacy. When one of my daughters jerked her hand from mine with the intention of running out to play in traffic, I swatted her tookus and let her know she’d scared the living crap out of me. She didn’t cry. She was too shocked by the pat on the butt and the fear in my voice. You can argue that the swat wasn’t necessary, that the fear would have sufficed. You’re one of those who believes the Age of Reason precedes twenty, then, and I’m sure you’ve never heard the joke about the mule and the two by four, and most likely you’ll be outside my door with a torch soon. Don’t bother. My kids are grown and having kids of their own. I’ll give you their addresses.
What else is there to say about toddlers? If you’re thinking of getting one they’re great with dogs, don’t require a lot of room–although a fenced yard is better and more humane than those runs—and they’re fun to watch. I know people who have two of them, and for the most part they get along great together. That’s a little too much work for most people, though, since toddlers are quite active when they aren’t sleeping or eating or pooping. You will almost certainly want to start off with one and work your way up. As to what I said about dogs and toddlers bear in mind that they will get into each other’s dishes. Some dogs are all right with that, some not so much.