I was emptying the recycle bin this afternoon when my daughter walked up to me, holding an empty cereal bar box. She didn't say anything to me, just held the box and looked at me, waiting for an answer to a question she wasn't asking. "Yes?" I said, emptying the recycle bin. "This box is empty," she said, chewing the last cereal bar. "And what would you like me to do about it?" I asked her. "Wrap it in my magic towel and fill it up again?"
She gave me a typical "that's-not-funny" look and dropped the box into the recycle bin. I was referring to something she told me not long ago. When we have tacos, I put the soft tortillas in a clean dish towel and microwave them for a minute, as the instructions say. My daughter told me that when she was really little, she didn't realize I had put tortillas in the towel; she thought it was a magic towel, and when I put it in the microwave oven, warm tortillas magically appeared.
The lesson, of course, is that Dads are magical. To a kid, it's not at all out of the question that a dad could make tortillas appear out of thin air. Moms, not so much.
The great, great writer Michael Chabon has a wonderful book called Manhood for Amateurs, a bunch of reflections on being a man and a father. One of the essays, "William and I," starts out, "The handy thing about being a father is that the historic standard is so pitifully low." He tells a story about going to the supermarket with his twenty-month-old son. A woman he didn't know beamed at him, and said "You're such a good dad. I can tell." He wasn't doing anything particularly great (in fact, his dirty-faced kid was chewing dangerously on a wire twist tie). He was just there, with his kid, running an errand.
Would a mom holding her toddler at the grocery store get the same reaction? Yeah, right.
Chabon puts it even better a little later in the essay: "The father on a camping trip who manages to beat a rattlesnake to death with a can of Dinty Moore in a tube sock may rest for decades on the ensuing laurels, yet somehow snore peacefully every night beside his sleepless wife, even though he knows perfectly well that the Polly Pocket toys may be tainted with lead-based paint, and the Rite Aid was out of test kits, and somebody had better go order them online, overnight delivery, even though it is four in the morning. It is in part the monumental open-endedness of the job, with its infinite number of infinitely small pieces, that routinely leads mothers to see themselves as inadequate, therefore making the task of recognizing their goodness, at any given moment, so hard."
How can moms be magical when there's so damn much to worry about?
So I guess what I'm saying is, I want to thank my wife on this day for being the one who does all of the worrying. We balance each other well, in many ways, and know when to take turns being crazy (as someone once told us happens in good marriages). The one time I can remember the roles really reversing was soon after I was diagnosed, in a deep depression, worrying about her an the kids, and finally finding the courage to say so to her. He response was basically a stone-faced, "We'll deal with it," which is what I usually say to her in such situations. It was just what I needed.
And I want to thank my own mother, and my mother-in-law, worry-ers both, for all of their own sleepless nights.
It's easy to be magical. You tell your toddlers that the beans that you just ate were jumping beans, and that you can jump over the house, and to prove it you run out the front door, around the house, and in the through the back door, telling them that you went over the house, not around it, and they believe you, because they're small and you're a dad.
But it's mom who tells them, once all of that spectacle is over, "OK, now eat your beans."
That's the much more important job, isn't it?