Second String

by Dave Bittle. 0 Comments

When I hear the word “backup,” the first images that come to mind are generator, plan and singer—as in backup-generator, backup-plan, and backup-singer. In that order. But that’s just me.   

“No offence,” says my youngest daughter Mackenzie, 7, “but dads are kind of the ‘backup parent.’ Mom is my actual parent because…she had had me.” —with equal emphasis on both the first and second had. 

Wait, what? A backup parent? Although no offence was intended (always the thoughtful child that one), it was unpleasant to hear even so. That this child thinks nothing more of my contribution to her rearing than to identify me as the “backup parent,” a mere second-rate menial, despite my total immersion full-frontal parenting, was indeed disheartening.

“Yes, but doesn’t daaaaaaady do just as much work as mom?” I delved. Confident that framing the “question” this way would provide essential context, thus allowing her to see the situation differently, more pragmatically, as it actually is. 

“No,” she announced with a thin smile somewhat matter-of-factly “mom does more. And I was in her belly.” Whoa! Huh? 

Let me see if I understand this correctly. Because the father doesn’t physically carry the child in his belly, and so doesn’t endure the pain of the child exiting the birth canal, as fathers, we are forever consigned to being part of the auxiliary parent squadron? An unadorned backup parent? A sort of feckless, gun-less, mall-cop parental equivalent?  

Geez, everyone knows a backup, by definition, is a less than ideal substitute for the very thing—somewhat of a counterfeit. As second-string not-as-goods, backups are usually a cheaper and less functional version of what they’re designed to, well, backup. 

For example, a gas powered backup-generator has serious limitations for the amount of amperage it can deliver, the gasoline it requires, and the noise and fumes it emits—read: not optimal. Similarly, a backup-plan (Plan B) is never as good as the original (Plan A) or it wouldn’t be Plan B—read: less than best. In the event I should ever lose my glasses, my Plan B is to use my old pair, the pair I replaced because I could no longer use them to read without getting a two martini headache. By the same token, if the backup singer was really talented, they’d be out front for all to hear and see, where the real money is—not ensconced behind headlining superstars and mountains of equipment. No, we dads are not “backup parents”, no sir.

Lest we not forget who buoyed momma during her acute time of need—what with all those additional responsibilities of cooking (what’s the number for Dominos?), cleaning (leaf blowers work great for removing excess stuff from kitchen counters and bedroom floors), shopping (canned soup tastes great, plus it has healthy vegetables already in it) and many of the other essential chores assumed by dads during the infinite tumult, and continuing subsequently after the birth. We dads were there; we lived with mama and all her mercurial ways for—is it over yet—nine months leading up to the celebrated day. Backup? Ha! I don’t think so. Dads are to moms what dip is to potato chips, what beer is to wings, what bourbon is to visits from the in-laws—we’re more or less, indispensable. 

Most assuredly, amidst the daily drudgery and high theater, this dad has never felt part of any auxiliary parent squad lying in wait. No, I haven’t been loitering on my couch, hermetically sealed; waiting for the day when I’d finally be needed, to vault from a state of inaction to full engagement. That’s certainly not how I’d characterize the last ten years, exactly.

Strangely, I never felt like the backup parent when my daughters, over the years, sat on my lap, sick, vomiting into trash cans as I held their hair back, providing what little comfort I could under the circumstances. Ditto the time I swept my youngest up in my arms, rushing her to Urgent Care because her sister “accidently” slammed the bathroom door (hinged side) on her fingers. Likewise, I didn’t feel like a backup parent the time my oldest, then just shy of three-years-old, had to undergo a procedure requiring her to be anesthetized, her mother and I holding her hands as she drifted off—with lump in throat and tears in eyes. 

And by no means did I feel like the backup parent when I was refereeing all those featherweight sibling bouts, or during the many evenings spent helping with homework—it’s even less fun the second time around. Similarly, I never felt like a backup whilst riding the hot, noisy school bus with poor suspension on field trips to the zoo and state capital, or eating lunch in the school cafeteria with twenty-six other clattery children, or while swatting away flocks of gnats as I looked on during outdoor youth athletic games. 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining, no way. I’m glad to have had all those experiences with my girls.   But to label the average dad a “backup parent” grossly understates a father’s depth of involvement or level of commitment. 

So, what’s a father to do you ask? Clearly, there’s only one thing you can do to cement your place as a non-backup parent in the minds of your children—buy them off. That’s right, alter their perception of reality by showering them in gratuitous handouts and relationship sweeteners, all designed to buy their love and affection, thus positively influencing, now and later, their opinion of you as a father and your role in the family. 

How? Well, always make every effort to be the first parent to offer your kids dessert, especially ice-cream, they love that stuff.  At all times carry a few dumb-dumb lollypops in your pocket to give them at just the right moment—when their mother isn’t looking. Never miss an opportunity to buy them gum or candy in the grocery store check-out line, “Shhh, don’t tell mom, this is our little secret” you insist. Also, bring home gifts—large, medium, small and often, just because. 

And of course, when you catch your acrobatic young ones jumping on the furniture, standing on the dining-room table yelling “I’M KING OF THE MOUNTAIN”, or climbing on the kitchen counters, just give them an approving wink—let mom be the one to spoil their fun, not you. And finally, never be the one to say no, let their mother, your competition, always be the buzzkill. Whenever mom says NO, you say YES.

Naturally all this will probably make your wife a little ireful. Sure your marriage will probably suffer.  Yes this could further contribute to our nationwide childhood obesity crisis, what with all those treats you’ll be giving them. But hey, don’t you want your kids to think you’re the better parent? Don’t you want to avoid being thought of as the “backup parent” forever more? Yes, that’s right. Well, follow these easy steps and in their eyes, you’ll be great, you’ll be awesome, you’ll be the anti-backup parent.

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