Imagine this scene: Kids’ messy bedroom. Toothpaste breath fills the air. Pajama-clad bodies everywhere.
The girls and I have just finished the latest installment of Scott O’Dell’s “Sarah Bishop,” and their eyes are beginning to droop. I close the book and turn out the light. We say prayers and I kiss them good night. I limp out of the room exhausted, another long day almost put to sleep. Then here comes The Dad to claim his good-night kisses. He suddenly feels compelled to tickle one while accomplishing his endeavor.
“Tickle me,” the little one begs.
He steals her favorite stuffed animal instead, pretending to throw “Kanga” in the trash can to delighted squeals of protest from the toy kangaroo’s owner.
“Give it! Give it! Kanga! Kanga!” she yells, feigning concern.
They tumble and shriek and bounce and holler. I can hear it. I look to my visiting mother-in-law for help, shaking my head and asking: “Why are dads like this?”
Her expression is positively non-expressive. Says in an instant: This surprises you?
“Hey, Ed,” I shout. “Is this called Settling the Girls Down for Bed?” They yell some more and then the Man Being A Dad emerges, rumpled and red-faced and basking in that look that must be a fatherly glow. I flash him The Look; every good and decent mother has one.
“What???” he asks all innocence and boyishness. “All I did was kiss them good night.”
I laugh and go back to reading. But the pitter-patter of bare feet on wood floors is soon to follow. It is the little one, her long, loose hair matted into a sweaty, tumbled knot; her bangs making like a porcupine.
“Mom,” she says, “I can’t sleep. I’ve got a headache.”
I thought these quirks in my husband’s personality were an oddity as family relations go until I wrote a column several years ago about Husband-Wife Illnesses.
In that column, I admitted to being perplexed by a strange malady that had visited our house for most of our married years. By some quirk of nature or environment, I could never get sick without my husband getting sicker. If I got a cold, he got the flu. If I sprained an ankle, he broke his.
All I have to do is hint at a headache, and he’s moaning in his favorite chair, his best puppy-dog eyes beseeching me to boil some water for the TheraFlu.
Women called and wrote by the dozens to instruct me that this wasn’t so unusual. Similar illness patterns had visited their house. Most of them had given up on getting sick altogether. It was too much work.
So I suspect a bit of universality in this subject of Why Dads Are the Way They Are.
I don’t know why it is, but dads would rather lead the troops in watermelon-seed spitting contests than nag the kids about picking up dirty underwear from the bathroom floor. Dads do not find the human emission of toxic substances embarrassing. Mothers will adamantly deny any such emissions as their own, but Dads find it funny when they bear the responsibility.
Bedtime is adhered to down to the millisecond when Mom’s in charge, but enforcement of the lights-out policy is a touch-and-go thing with Dad. If the kids are low on white socks while Mom’s out of town, Dad throws them in with the car cover.
Dads don’t worry about safety issues much.
In the haste of piling into the family station wagon once, my daughters and their friends all forgot to shut the front passenger door.
“Don’t worry about it,” their father said. He sped off and the door slammed shut on its own. I gasped when I heard about this maneuver, which - wouldn’t you know it? - impressed the kids.
“It was really cool,” my older daughter said.
“Try it when you’re 16, and you’ll never drive again,” I hissed.
Likewise, heights coupled with kids and electricity mean nothing to the Man with Nerves of Steel. Our daughters were 6 the first time he put them on the roof to help with Christmas lights; now they think it’s a holiday tradition.
I don’t know where men get these odd ideas, but it’s not from their mothers. Maybe these behaviors are taught to fathers surreptitiously in the hospital while we’re in the delivery room huffing and puffing like stampeding buffalo.
Maybe it’s nature’s way of balancing all the worrying and nurturing mothers do.
I call these experiences crazy; he calls them character-building. There’s probably some truth to both.
The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Diana Griego Erwin McClatchy News Service