My Dad is a real man. He wears Black and Decker underwear and buys pallets of toilet paper from Sears. He watches sports on television every Sunday afternoon, even if it’s only putt-putt season, and turns the sound all the way down so that the sportscasting ninnies don’t ruin a beautiful play with color drivel. He can estimate distance to an eighteenth of an inch and can tell whether a picture is half a bubble off plumb just by squeezing one eye shut and looking through his thumb. He survived the Depression on beans and biscuits; World War II on courage and luck; and 48 years of marriage on Divine Providence and guesswork. He taught four children to drive without suffering permanent neurological damage, made us wear more clothes when we were cold, and refused to let us hang on the refrigerator with the door open until we air conditioned the whole neighborhood.
So how can a five-year-old bundle of brown eyes and rosy cheeks crawl up in his lap at fourth down and goal to go and persuade him to read The Cat In The Hat for the four thousandth time without suffering severe blood loss?
This man, who refused to allow scented soap in the shower during my childhood years, now has a cupboard stocked with curly noodle soup, sports animal stickers on his bedroom door, and a maintains a stable of Barbies who loiter in his favorite recliner. When I dropped by Dad’s house last Sunday to comfort the old man in his lonesome existence and retrieve his great-grandaughter, I tripped over three teddy bears and a stuffed cat having a tea party, stumbled on a pair of pink plastic high heeled shoes and a glittery feather boa tossed carelessly in front of a full length mirror, and turned my ankle sliding across a nest of scattered crayons and coloring books piled in the hallway.
“Dad!” I called, afraid to endanger myself by advancing further. A trip to my father’s house should not involve my health insurance. “Have you been finding new ways to entertain yourself or is there a little girl hiding in there?”
Giggles erupted from around the corner. “We’re in the kitchen,” a small, freckled voice said. I followed a line of Winnie-the-Pooh stickers posted along the wall at five-year-old eye level and entered the kitchen. Over a teetering mountain of mall-type bags, a pair of large brown eyes twinkled in my direction.
“Can you tell we’ve been shopping?” the bag-mountain asked.
Duh. Does the queen wear matching accessories?
“Papa bought me a sticker book, two kinds of bubble gum, and a Shirley Temple video.”
“Yeah, she’s a new kid that can dance.”
“If Shirley Temple’s a new kid, we’d better be prepared to dodge wandering bands of Tyrannosaurs on the way home.”
“Papa made me a new kind of cheese sandwich. You cook it right in the oven.”
“Sweetie, it’s time to go. Gather up your 50 most prized possessions and I’ll take you home.”
She hopped down and ran to me, clutching a battered baby doll that looked like it would be at home in Little Orphan Annie’s boarding house. “I’m ready.”
“What about all your treasures?”
“Oh, Papa bought that stuff for me to play with here. He already took my other stuff home for me.”
I glanced over at my dad, who was nestled in his recliner recovering from the shopping expedition by snoring loudly through the ballgame. He cracked one eye open and peered up at me. “Don’t forget her food. She has Little Debbie brownies, Beauty and the Beast cookies, and Barbie cupcakes. With sprinkles.”
Sure, the queen may have matching hat and shoes and the wealth of an entire nation, but the princess has designer snacks and a Papa that can’t say no.