, March 2000

    In the Trenches With Bruce Kluger
    Daddy's Bill of Rights

    By Bruce Kluger

    True story: I am from Baltimore, and like
    most locals there, I was raised an Orioles
    fan; my wife is from Cleveland, and,
    likewise, an Indians disciple.

    While fiercely protective of our hometown
    turfs with one another, neither of us
    realized how much we’d been foisting
    our baseball biases on our daughter,
    Bridgette. Then one afternoon—Bridgey
    was about two-and-a-half—I was trying to
    get her to take a nap, and found myself
    trotting out a favorite bribe.

    “Please try to sleep, honey,” I implored her, “and if you do, I’ll make you a promise:
    when you wake up we’ll go out for Indian food.”

    “No, no,” Bridgette complained, “not Indian food. Oriole food!”

    As proud as I was of her at that moment (clearly she had made the right choice), I
    instantly recognized that Alene and I had somehow failed our little one. While as
    parents we’d managed  to stay on the same page with respect to more basic
    matters (bedtime, TV privileges, manners) we’d obviously confused our daughter
    about life’s more burning issues—like baseball.

    Why were the Indians and Orioles even sharing the same part of Bridgette’s brain?
    I asked myself. After all, a true-blue Baltimore descendant shouldn’t even know
    other teams exist before the age of nine—especially the Indians. And, more to the
    point, which parent should pick the child’s favorite baseball team in the first pace?

    The answer came back to me faster than a three-year-old’s meltdown at dinnertime:

    Now before you jump out of your skin and call me a sexist, hear me out. Anyone
    who knows me will tell you I’m a passionate, equal-opportunity father. With the
    exception of pregnancy and breast-feeding, I am convinced that men and women  
    can—and should—share the joys and hardships of parenting evenly, with Mom and
    Dad functioning interchangeably at the top of the food chain, whatever the task at

    But as Bridgette moves into the fives, and Audrey begins to walk, I am discovering
    that, even as my identity nicely reshapes itself around the concept of fatherhood,
    I'm losing touch with many of those things that make a Daddy a Daddy in the first
    place. In other words, in my efforts to be an equal co-parent, I think I’m in danger of
    throwing my inner-baby boy out with the bathwater.

    Why, for example, when I enter the grocery store, does the pretty cashier look at
    me and say “Baby sitting today?” as opposed to “Hey, good lookin’” Why have my
    brothers stopped calling me to talk about how our alma mater’s basketball team
    blew it again in overtime, and instead just ask me if I have any new pictures of my
    daughters to send them? Why do I know more about Pokemon than Pam Anderson?

    So maybe the Indians-Orioles incident was no fluke. Maybe it was a secret message
    from “the boys of summer,” calling out to me to rediscover my masculine roots.
    Either way, I knew I owed it to my daughters—and to fathers everywhere—not only
    to seize the privilege of being a major league parent, but along with it, a half-dozen
    other inalienable rights that separate the Pops from the Moms. Herewith, my
    Daddy's Bill of Rights:

    The right to pick our children’s favorite baseball team, until such time as
    the child is old enough to make his or her own choice (but not before the
    age of seven). The only exception to this rule is if the father is a Boston Red Sox
    fan, in which case the child should be exposed to the team in small, careful doses,
    all the while being braced for the inevitable heartbreak that goes with rooting for
    Beantown. To wit: the child should be told as early as age five that the Red Sox will
    never—ever—win a World Series in her lifetime.

    Naturally, the child is permitted to root for Mom’s team, too. But only when Dad’s
    team isn’t playing, or is in the middle of rain-delay.
    The right to give them any designated nickname we want. My buddy calls his
    son Zachary “Zach the Maniac”; my brother uses “Skittles” to beckon his two-year-
    old, Emily. Me, I've addressed Bridgette as “Chopstick” for four-and-a-half years,
    and just started calling Audrey “Chewy” and “Pooh” (I can’t choose between the
    two—both work so well).

    It begins, I suppose, in summer camp, when boys are hell-bent on giving one
    another nicknames, most of them unflattering monikers that allude to hair color,
    weight or flatulence. Just consider this the grown-up version, in which the chosen
    pet names run the gamut from the endearing  (“Cuddles”) to the suggestive (”
    Stinky”). And, by the way, for any of this to work effectively, you need to call the
    child by his proper some of the time. Otherwise, the kid will never know when he’s
    being called on in school.

    The right to put funny things on their heads. It must be a chemical component
    hidden within in the Three Stooges chromosome (the little-known genetic strand
    that allows men, and only men, to find Larry, Moe and Curly a riot); but placing an
    object on baby’s head is simply entertaining to us. Besides, if it wasn’t meant to be
    done, God wouldn’t have made children’s heads so big and given us cameras.

    As I write this, I can’t tell you exactly why I felt compelled to pose Bridgette, at four
    weeks, with a bottle of aspirin perched on her still bald pate, or why at six months,
    Audrey needed to wear a Play-doh-and-celery chapeau. All I can tell you is that the
    pictures are now classics. And if it means anything, all my guy friends find them

    The right to continue to lose their socks. Hey, we’d lose our own socks if our
    shoes weren’t holding them on.

    The right to feed them crap. I have never been what you’d call a gourmet. I loved
    cafeteria food as a school kid, ate from vending machines in college, and to this
    day still believe the three basic food groups are Gum, Chips and Twinkies.
    Consequently, as long as my wife is at the wheel in the nutrition department (and,
    thankfully, she is as devoted to the food pyramid as I am to Pez), I get dibs on
    handing out the goodies in my household—from desserts to treats to the
    occasional smuggled Peppermint Patty before bedtime. I know this unfairly makes
    me a more popular fellow with my girls than my wife—and but, hey, that’s the way it
    is. Pain of motherhood and all.

    The right to show them scary movie clips. I once flew from Prague to New York
    with Bridgette, during which the in-flight movie was Men in Black. No manner of
    pleading with her to turn her head worked for me—she was mesmerized by the film
    (especially the scene in which a woman delivers a baby octopus-alien in the back
    seat of a car). Since that day, and with the help of an extensive video library, I’ve
    become hooked on watching my daughter try to wrap her little mind around
    moviedom’s wilder special effects. She’s infinitely more engaging—and engaged—
    than when she watches, say, Cinderella for the ninetieth time, and I love being
    witness to it. Would I let her see The Exorcist? Of course not. Would I show her
    Beetlejuice? In a heartbeat.

    By the way, as for nightmares, the only film that’s caused Bridgette to awaken,
    crying, in the wee morning hours was Jurassic Park II: The Lost World. Turns out
    she saw it on a play date at a boy’s house. Naturally, I would never have let her
    watch that film. Not when Part I was so much better.

    The right to our own phraseology. When Alene crosses the street with
    Bridgette, she gently warns her, “Remember to hold Mommy’s hand, and always
    look both ways.” When I’m the crossing guard, my admonition is a bit more colorful.
    “Don’t let go of my hand, Bridgey, because if a bus runs over you, it’s all over. You’
    ll be squashed like a bug.” From birth, I suppose, children’s minds are programmed
    to take in the vital information, then discard the extraneous, unessential and
    otherwise goofy. Bridgette doesn’t bat an eyelash when I push the envelope with
    the overly graphic or daringly off-color. In fact, she finds me harmlessly amusing.
    Like mother, like daughter.

    The right to love them like a man. Guys punch each other for fun, hug too hard,
    and say things like, “Get your butt over here, dummy.” And that’s when they like
    each other. I don’t mind this—it’s just testosterone doing its thing. Being a boy in a
    girls’ world (and, by the way, if you haven’t figured out it’s a girls’ world, I would
    advise you not to have daughters) is a delightful burden, one in which we
    constantly seek ways to adapt to the natural, biological and God-given wisdom of
    women. As fathers, we listen carefully to the way mothers parent, then make the
    ideas our own.

    In other words: I love the hell out of my girls. And anybody tells you different, I’ll
    deck ‘em.
Head games: Audrey, with Play-doh-and-celery hat.