When dads feel second best

John Crossingham talks about playing second fiddle to Mom on Father’s Day.

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Photo: Claudia Dewald/Getty Images

I need affection like a hummer needs gas. And when it comes to being the father of a young child, that’s kind of an issue.

Though I was told that my time in the sun would come, as a new dad, generally my job description seemed to be to get out of the way so my baby daughter Isla’s affection could flow unencumbered in her mom’s direction.

Of course, I foolishly felt I could circumvent this with a monk-like regimen of selfless service. Feedings at 2 a.m. Skin-on-skin cuddles. Books and swings and face time and hours singing lullabies as I walked a shallow groove into our hallway. No matter my persistence, it was clear that I was merely the heat lamp under which my little burger sat as she waited to be whisked off to her proper place at Mommy’s table.

This was OK when fathers simply had to be gruff and chop firewood whilst chewing on small twigs and making spears from branches that were too large to be chewed on but were also of an insufficient circumference to sustain a fire. But I was a new model dad — a silly, dancing bear who made pancakes and did absurd voices!

Still, no breakthrough was forthcoming. My resentment at playing second fiddle was curdling my patience. It was like having to answer 10 phone calls a day from some popular kid at a school, only to continually turn to the person next to me and say, “It’s for you.”

But then there’s Father’s Day, the temporary refuge for the affection-challenged. A time when kids are encouraged (nay, obligated) to show Daddy a little love. Or more precisely, a little more love than they show their mom.

Because I’m a reasonable guy, I gave Isla a free pass on our first Father’s Day. She was only 10 months old. But the next year, some changes were in order. I mean, 22 months? No more trial period, kid.

That morning, we sat at the breakfast table, only the sounds of chewing breaking the thick air of my expectation.

“Dah-dee?”

I jerked my head eagerly in her direction. “Yes, sweetie?”

“Up!” Isla’s arms stretched out toward me.

“Up, up!”

As I lifted her up, she gestured toward the basement. As I climbed down the steps, my mind raced, imaging the incredible surprise my daughter and wife had concocted for me on my special day. I turned on the light to find…the couch and coffee table.

“Hmmm!” Isla gestured again, this time to be placed on the couch. “Hmmm! Hmmm!” She pointed to the TV remote.

Experience had taught me that withholding this particular pleasure resulted in more complaining than I felt like enjoying at that moment. So I put on the TV, and turned to go, defeated.

“Dah-dee?”

I looked back.

“Sit! Sit!”

At various points over the next three hours that we sat on the couch together, she made me get a sliced apple, Goldfish crackers, cheese and milk. My left arm also fell asleep after about 40 minutes of her insisting on sitting on it while I laid down.

It was my second Father’s Day.

It’s going be hard to beat.

Originally published in the June 2012 issue of Today’s Parent Magazine with the headline “Daddy no best,” p. 52.

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