Homelife: The Benefits to Men
A chapter from Glad to Be Dad: A Call to
Two Hours in the Life: A Cautionary
A chapter from Glad to Be Dad: A Call to
The phrase easier said than done
applies with particular force to certain
activities, things like bungee jumping, sky diving,
or Formula-1 racing. Spending time at home with
kids, it turns out, falls into the same category,
and not all men are fully aware of this. Those who
think its a piece of cake are simply
ignorant; unless you have first-hand experience,
its hard to know just how
challenging this job can be.
The following, therefore, is an account of one
cold January afternoon I spent with my
four-year-old daughter Shilly-Shally (not, I
promise, her real name). It represents a more or
less typical day--well, actually about two hours.
(I considered recording a whole day but then
realized that might be too frightening). You may
think Ive selected for high drama, but I
swear I havent exaggerated, cross my heart
and hope to survive.
So remember, comrade: Whatever you may feel when
reading this, Im really giving you only a
thin slice of the pie. To get a true taste,
multiply these two hours by the ten years or so it
takes to turn a kid from a restless, curious,
whining, monkey-like, self-centered little
consumption-machine into something approximating
human character. Then come the teenage years.
1:00 p.m.--Feeling restless after a morning of
housecleaning and the thrills of making lunch, I
attempt to convince Shilly-Shally that we should
put on our snow clothes and play in the backyard.
Shes always loved to do this; in the past
its given her hours of delight. But at the
moment shes utterly forgotten her former
pleasure. I attempt to remind her. I fail.
1:05--After refusing to go outside,
Shilly-Shally lies under the dining-room table
playing with the squirrels she made out
of strips of cardboard and paper. As I continue my
attempts to convince her, she states categorically
that she hates to go out in the snow and will never
agree to do so.
1:10--I mention that the little boy next door
may go out too. Her eyes brighten. She loves to go
out and play in the snow! Will I please get her
dressed in her snowsuit?
1:15--First we argue in the kitchen about why
she cant wear a dress under snowpants. Then I
go up to her room and get her some clothes. Once I
convince her to stand still--which takes some
doing--I dress her in her socks, her boot socks,
her long underwear, her shirt and jeans, her
snowpants, her boots, her coat, her mittens, her
hat, and her scarf. Then she has to go to the
bathroom. I take off her scarf, her hat, her
mittens, her coat, her boots, her snowpants, and
1:20--I put back on her jeans, her snowpants,
her boots, her coat, her mittens, her hat, and her
scarf. Then I dress myself hurriedly to repeated
choruses of Come on, Dad! Im
1:25--We go outside. The little boy next door
isnt there. We discuss this. The discussion
ends with one of us crying in a loud and blubbery
fashion. I return to the house for kleenex.
1:30--The little boy next door comes out. The
tears dry on Shilly-Shallys suddenly joyous
cheeks. Then the little boy next door says
stubbornly that he doesnt want to play with
Shilly-Shally. I go back in for more kleenex.
1:35--Shilly-Shally and the little boy next door
start to play (his memory, it seems, is a lot like
hers). Im shoveling snow to make a sled ramp
for them. Shilly-Shally pretends to be the Grinch
Who Stole Christmas, roaring and saying mean things
to everyone. The little boy next door asks me if he
can be the guy from the video game Mortal Kombat. I
1:40--Theyre still playing. The little boy
next door asks me four times if he can be the guy
from Mortal Kombat. I agree each time.
I happen to cut my hand on the snow shovel.
Shilly-Shally always cries piteously when she gets
little scrapes and cuts; thinking this a perfect
teaching opportunity, I show her mine.
See? I say, Its bleeding,
but it doesnt hurt much. Just a little cut.
No big deal.
Thats right, she says.
Just a little cut.
Yes! I echo, surprised and pleased
at her maturity. Nothing to worry
Thats right, she agrees.
Im not hurt. So nothing to worry
1:45--Shilly-Shally and the little boy next door
have a fight. Hes upset because the Grinch
keeps screaming in his ears. I ask the Grinch to
crank it down a notch, but she refuses. I
insist--which results in my having to go back into
the house for more kleenex. I return to start
mopping-up operations on the Grinch's face. As I do
so, the little boy next door asks me three times if
he can be the guy from Mortal Kombat. I agree each
1:50--The fight is not only over, but
theyve forgotten it ever occurred.
Thats because theres a new fight
now--over who gets to swing on the swing. (Even
with two feet of snow on the ground this is still
the Holy of Holies). I talk to them about sharing
and taking turns, going so far as to sing the
appropriate song from Barney. Shilly-Shally
actually refrains from crying; I consider this a
victory and a small step toward maturation. (Of
course I made sure she got the first turn; I
dont have to fetch kleenex for the little boy
1:55--While hes waiting to swing, the
little boy next door asks me five times if he can
be the guy from Mortal Kombat. I agree each
2:00--I continue to shovel snow. Shilly-Shally
and the little boy next door begin to play
separately. For the little boy next door, that
means coming over to me and asking four times if he
can be the guy from Mortal Kombat. YES!
I roar, then add, Why do you keep asking me
that? His answer? He looks away for a moment
and then says, Hey, Tim--can I be the guy
from Mortal Kombat?
I quietly agree.
2:05--Shilly-Shally wants me to find her plastic
football. Its buried somewhere in the
ocean-like depths of snow that cover our sizeable
backyard. Are you sure you have to have that
plastic football? I ask her. Its
going to be really hard to find. She looks
stricken. Dad! Its my puppy!
This is true; shes lavished hours of
attention on her plastic football (though the
puppy has been pretty much on its own
in the snowy wilds since last summer). I let out a
long sigh, which she accurately translates as
Okay--Ill do it. When the little
boy next door begins to ask if he can be the guy
from Mortal Kombat, I shout YES! before
he finishes the sentence. He looks at me for a
moment. Then he laughs. I realize Ive made a
serious error; he likes this new game.
2:10--After much snow-shoveling and a lucky
guess, I fish Shilly-Shallys plastic football
up out of a snowdrift and hand it to her. Then I go
back to building the sled ramp. For all of thirty
seconds, Shilly-Shally pours motherly and canine
affection over the plastic football. Then she drops
it and says her feet are cold. Im not stupid;
I know the signs of apocalypse when I see them.
So I stop shoveling and start pulling
Shilly-Shally and the little boy next door around
on the sled. I figure this will keep them happy and
maybe even warm them up a little. Huffing like a
plow horse, I drag them back and forth, swinging
wide on the turns to make them giggle. They enjoy
this immensely. But no passion, as Yeats said, can
burn forever in so frail a lamp as man. In three
minutes theyre tired of it. As Shilly-Shally
loudly reminds me about her cold feet, I hear that
ominous note of serious displeasure in her voice.
Again, with the pride of the professional, I
attempt to forestall the inevitable. I show them
how to sled on the half-finished sled ramp.
2:15--The little boy next door remembers to ask
if he can be the guy from Mortal Kombat. Realizing
now that a shout will only make him laugh, I
quietly agree. He interprets this as permission to
ask four more times. Then Shilly-Shally falls off
the sled and does a face-plant in the snow. I go
back into the house for kleenex. (In my male
stupidity, it never occurs to me that I could just
put a wad of kleenex in my pocket and so avoid
these increasingly annoying trips back into the
house). With enormous effort and a cheerful energy
worthy of Richard Simmons, I manage to calm her
down. But a major hissy fit may be only moments
2:20--Disaster strikes. After asking me five
more times if he can be the guy from Mortal Kombat,
the little boy next door manages to twist his foot
on our three-foot-high sled ramp. He starts to cry.
By the time I come back out with more kleenex (all
right, I admit itI caved), he wants to go
home. This throws the already frozen-faced and
icy-footed Shilly-Shally for a complete loop. She
desperately wants the little boy to stay out so
they can play; she also desperately wants to go in
and get warm. This emotional dilemma, like the
pressure of magma deep inside a volcano, must be
2:25--The little boy next door says goodbye, but
not before asking if, when we play tomorrow, he can
be the guy from Mortal Kombat. When she realizes he
really is going in, Shilly-Shally lets out a howl
of anguish that practically melts the snow.
THEN IM GOING IN TOO! she
half-shriekingly declares, and stomps up the porch
steps as if mortally offended.
2:30: Once were inside, I brush all the
snow off her and help her take off her hat, her
mittens, her coat, her boots, her snowpants, her
shirt, her jeans, her long underwear, and her boot
socks. Shes still upset, but at least now the
kleenex is handy. Because shes recently
stopped napping and is very tired at this time of
day--and because she always has a hard time when
the little boy next door goes in--and because she
did a face-plant in the snow--and because she
generally has strong feelings about things--and for
whatever other reasons--shes feeling bad.
Very bad. Her pretend-Grinch scowl has become the
real McCoy. (Id describe her as fit to
be tied but that would reveal some of the
inappropriate strategies flitting through my mind
at the moment). Even putting on a new dress (the
third of five that day) fails to provide her with
its usual boost. A series of demands and complaints
and a deeply furrowed little forehead indicate that
things are turning ugly. I note the storm warnings;
Ive seen before just how quickly a tropical
low can turn into a hurricane.
2:35--Full-blown flip-out occurs. Shes
screaming, weeping, refusing to do anything I ask,
shouting terrible things like I DONT
LOVE YOU!! IM NEVER PLAYING IN THE SNOW
AGAIN!! YOURE NOT A VERY GOOD FATHER!! I HATE
BARNEY!! (a child's equivalent of taking the
Lords name in vain).
I offer to play blocks with her, read her a
picture book, color, whatever she wants. I
HATE ALL THOSE THINGS! she bellows. After
many attempts to pacify her, I find myself thinking
about Hitler and Neville Chamberlain. So I tell her
firmly that if she cant stop screaming and
crying, shell have to go to her room. She
continues; I say Go to your room. She
finally complies, at approximately 50 mph and 90
decibels, but only after I approach her with the
intent of picking her up and carrying her there.
The slam of her bedroom door echoes through the
house like a sonic boom.
In the suddenly quiet kitchen I wonder: Is the
little boy next door even now asking his mom if he
can be the guy from Mortal Kombat?
2:40--I start feeling bad for Shilly-Shally.
After all, shes had a rough twenty
minutes--and she hasnt eaten for over an
hour! Deciding to be Super-Parent, I make
tea to take up to her room. A PB &
J cut into squares becomes petit-fours; I fill her
pink plastic tea kettle with apple juice. (A truly
loving father, of course, would have gone out and
bought her one of those kid-sized,
actually-motorized Malibu Barbie Fun Jeeps). Then I
carry the whole thing upstairs on a tea tray, with
napkins, pink plastic cutlery, apple slices, the
works. Shes going to love this!
Ive also made myself a cup of hot
chocolate and suddenly realize, rather wistfully,
that its the first thing Ive done for
myself since I brushed my teeth in the early
2:45--Shilly-Shallys delighted. As we
picnic on the floor of her room, her passionate
sorrow melts into ecstasy. She wants to play the
Three Little Pigs. Shell be Penny, the
oldest, smartest pig. Im Paulie, one of her
less intelligent younger brothers come to live in
the wolf-proof house she built. This, of course,
makes her the boss. Can I really
be the boss, Dad? she asks, wanting to be
very clear about this. The question has a dangerous
ring to it. I hesitate, knowing what such a
political precedent can mean. But were still
too close to the recent crying fit to risk a
re-engagement over whats really only a
negative possibility. "Yes," I say, "You can be
boss--if I can be the guy from Mortal Kombat." She
2:50--For the next five minutes we know sheer,
undiluted happiness. For five minutes we live just
like the parents and kids on TV commercials. I
savor it like an elixir.
2:55--The phone rings. Before I go downstairs to
answer it, I caution Shilly-Shally not to carry her
little teacup full of apple juice anywhere. With a
parents eternal vigilance against messy
spills, Ive noticed shes a little shaky
handling the cup, so I insist she stay seated if
shes going to drink from it.
I answer the phone. Luckily, its only one
of those annoying telemarketers--not someone asking
if he can be the guy from Mortal Kombat. But my
relief is shattered when I hear a cry from
3:00--On reaching Shilly-Shallys room I
learn that shes not only moved
her little teacup, shes spilled it--and the
entire plastic tea kettle full of apple juice.
Simian restlessness of youth! Tears well up--but I
suppress them. Of course Shilly-Shallys
crying too. When I gently remind her that she did
exactly what I asked her not to, the floodgates of
the deep are opened. I look around; naturally, the
kleenex box in her room is empty. But thats
no problem; Im on my way downstairs to get
rags and carpet cleaner anyway. The spills
shouldnt be all that tough to deal with,
since shes only soaked about 50% of the
carpet surface. Besides, my housemaids knee
has been pretty calm lately. Ill have all
this cleaned up in, say, twenty minutes or so.
But first Ive got an impromptu lesson
about not crying over spilt milk to
give, and a troubled angel to soothe--whose
happiness is, after all, one of the main reasons
for my existence on this planet.
©2013, Tim Meyers