Echoes of My Father

I hear it more often these days. Usually, in some mannerism, turn of phrase, or comment my father seems to be speaking or acting through me (such as when #2 and I shoveled the drive last winter). #1 and #2 hear it too and are quick to point it out. It’s not surprising, really, that I sometimes say and do things like my father. He was (and in so many ways remains) my role model. I learned from him. More surprising, to me, are the involuntary, physiological echoes of my father.

When I coughed the other morning, I thought: “Wow, I sound just like dad.” As if on cue, #1 called from the living room: “You sounded just like grandad when you coughed.” #1’s comment reminded me that my actions and behavior will recall for him my father. And one day his actions and behaviors will remind his children of me.[1] I am lucky: my dad is a good person—if I could be as good a person as he is, I would be a success.

We seem fated to become our parents, in ways we can and can’t control. And our children will hear the echoes of our parents even when we don’t. To the extent that we can, we have a responsibility to choose which aspects of our parents we want to preserve and pass on to our children. Because our children can’t help but become us.

Or, to put it another way: How do you want to be remembered?


  1. Clearly, the heteronormative assumptions in this last comment should be qualified in all sorts of ways, the most immediate of which is: If he chooses to have (through adoption or direct pro-creation) children in his life.  ↩

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An Army of Peg Princesses and Superheroes

Peg Princesses and Superheroes.

Peg Princesses and Superheroes.

During our recent afternoon of making fairies #2 reminded me of the weekend we spent making peg princesses and superheroes. We were trying to come up with something small to give her classmates at the holiday. I recalled seeing wooden peg dolls at the local crafts store. So I did a quick search and found lots of moms (unsurprisingly, I found no dads) making peg dolls (this was our model; she modeled her dolls on this page; there are beautiful examples if overly ornate for our purposes; and of course you can buy them on Etsy). These are all very nice but didn’t seem quite what I wanted. My goal was something #2 could do so we could work together on them. I was less interested in distributing gifts to her classmates than I was in spending a couple days working on a project together. So our army of peg princesses and superheroes was born.

Setup and materials—

Assembling the materials.

Assembling the materials.

We bought a couple bags of wooden peg dolls from here. I drove finishing nails into a 2×4 and cut off the heads so that we could hold the dolls as we painted them.

A finishing nail works as a holder for the dolls.

A finishing nail works as a holder for the dolls.

I then drilled a little hole in the bottom of each doll.

The hole drilled in the bottom to hold the doll on the nail.

The hole drilled in the bottom to hold the doll on the nail.

Paints and brushes came from the local arts and crafts store.

Painting—

Then we had to think about how best to paint them. With a little masking tape and some forethought, you don’t have to worry about so much about the fine details the 6-year-old fingers can’t quite master. We made the princesses and superheroes in batches, sort of a peg-doll production line. I did the finish detail—e.g., faces and superhero emblems—but #2 was able to do everything else.

The assembly line of princesses and superheroes.

The assembly line of princesses and superheroes.

By the end of the first day we were about half done.

We’re half done.

We’re half done.

We returned the next day and finished them off. When they were all painted, I sprayed them with a clear coat to give them a nice sheen and to protect them from chips, stains, and water.

Our little army of peg princesses and superheroes.

Our little army of peg princesses and superheroes.

The only drawback, if there was one: when #2 told her classmates that she had made the dolls—she was quite proud of her work—they believed her. Some of the parents, however, were convinced we had purchased them—I had to reassure those parents that #2 was not lying, we had really made them.

Making fairies

The other day #2 asked me to make fairies with her. #2 quite likes making things—her busy little fingers are constantly turning discarded bits and bobs into little bundles and trinkets. When I said sure, she dashed downstairs to retrieve our “arts and crafts” box and returned. Out came the material, the thread, the yarn, the stuffing, the hot glue gun, and, after some digging around, the needles. We transformed our dining table into a fairy version of Dr. Frankenstein’s operating room without, of course, the maniacal laughter and bolt of lightning.

Over the next hour or so we cut out and arranged our fairy parts and assembled them. We compared techniques. We debated the best types and length of fairy hair. We worried about shape and size of fairy wings. We cut material and laid it out. We threaded needles and stitched bodies together and heads on bodies.

#2 opted for a muted, cream colored fairy with purple, heart-shaped wings. Thick, white hair crowned her fairy.

#2 chose a classic and subtle cream color for her fairy.

#2 chose a classic and subtle cream color for her fairy.

I thought a bright pink body would contrast nicely with light pink wings and complement crazy pink-and-white fairy hair.

Ya, I thought my fairy would prefer a pink body.

Ya, I thought my fairy would prefer a pink body.

Our fairies won’t win any arts-and-crafts awards (unlike our wooden princess and superhero dolls, which were fabulous (more on that some other time)). But we laughed and had fun. We have taken our fairies to breakfasts. They have ridden with us to school and flown into the classroom. One is lying with #2 right now in her bed.

Our fairies.

Our fairies.

As we cleaned up the mess, #2 casually remarked:

See, wasn’t it more fun to do arts and crafts with me than just to watch me play? I had more fun.

Yes. Yes, it was more fun.

Rules for Dating My …

There’s something troubling about the incessant “Rules for Dating My Daughter” memes. The fact that some of them are meant to be jokes doesn’t make them any more palatable to me—and even those intended to be jokes don’t strike me as funny.[1] Likewise, the closely related, earnest and well-intentioned posts, usually by fathers, fretting about when their infant daughters start to date seem problematic. Both cases seem grounded in fear and based on a fundamental double standard. And threats and coercion don’t seem, at least not to me, to be the most productive and mature ways to parent.

Let’s imagine for a moment a different set of rules, a set that a child gives to a father before introducing a Boy- or Girlfriend to him:

Rules a child could give to a parent

Rules a child could give to a parent


  1. I find it hard to see the references to shotguns and violence perpetrated on minors as funny. Just as I find it hard to see denying a daughter (or son) important, formative life experiences.  ↩

Watching #2 Bloom

The kids in #2’s class had been given a photocopy of a pot (flower pot) and asked to decorate it and then “plant” inside it something they hoped would grow and bloom. Candy plants were by far the most popular. There were a couple money plants and toy plants. There were a couple flower plants and a tree. When I found #2’s, this is what I saw:

#2 wants to bloom. I’m sure she will.

#2 wants to bloom. I’m sure she will.

There in the center of her pot was her name in big, bold letters. Underneath the pot, she completed the sentence “If I had the power to make anything bloom inside my pot, it would be …” with an exuberant “Me!!”

Everything about her drawing made me smile and my heart glad. How can I be anything but happy!

Childhood Innocence and Whimsy

The other morning #2 was trotting around asking us for a couple words. She would read the last word but otherwise didn’t explain what we were doing. After a couple rounds, she wandered off to her room for a few minutes. When she returned, she handed this to me:

#2 tries her hand at poetry.

#2 tries her hand at poetry.

Snuggl Pink Bear.
with marshmallow. Singing all night. Stars
twinkle in the sky, happy Animals
asleep in Barns. Little Piggies rolling in
mud Laughing.

I look at this and marvel at how wonderful childhood is with its unalloyed optimism and joy and whimsy. How do we preserve their innocence without impeding their maturation?

What is a father?

A father is a man who fails every day. Sometimes things work out: Your flashed message is received and read, your song is recorded by another band and goes straight to No. 1, your son blesses the memory of the day you helped him arrange the empty chairs of his foredoomed dream, your act of last-ditch desperation sends your comic-book company to the top of the industry. Success, however, does nothing to diminish the knowledge that failure stalks everything you do. But you knew that. Nobody gets past the age of ten without that knowledge. Welcome to the club.

Michael Chabon, “The Loser’s Club.”

Whatever successes we might enjoy, or rehearse ad naseum to those forced to hear them over and over again, we fail every day, often in ways we don’t recognize for years. But I can accept that. What distinguishes a father from simply a successfully reproductive male is how he uses those failures, what he learns from them, and how they change him.

A lifetime ago, in those pre-parental years when my greatest failures occurred in sporting events, a friend comforted me by saying: “Winners lose more than losers do.” At first I didn’t really understand what she meant, but after countless additional loses, I slowly began to realize the truth in what she had said.

Now, I think something similar could be said about fathers: “Fathers fail more than other people do.” What makes fathers special is what they do with those failures. Welcome to the club.