Dad is Her Favorite: A Heartbreaking Examination of My Daughter’s Early Writings
I am not the favorite parent. Please, don’t feel awkward about my confession. And don’t try to tell me otherwise. It is the honest truth. I have known for years. It was spelled out for me, with accompanying color illustrations, when my daughter, Carrie, started kindergarten in 2008.
The picture above is the first work of art ever sent home in her backpack. The description of the picture, transcribed by her teacher, reads: “Me and my dad went to Chuckie Cheese.” And that’s fine. Cute. The little drawing of Carrie and Todd, nothing more than smiley faces with legs. The summer sun, it’s zig zag rays, in the upper left corner. That rat’s picture on the side of the building. Good stuff. But where am I? And where is baby William? I assure you we were on that end-of-summer Chuckie Cheese excursion.
A couple of weeks later, the pictures coming home became more advanced. The figures had shoes, and Carrie herself had labeled them.
This picture, in case you can’t make out the words, reads: “sun, me, dad, sky.” It is dated 8/27/08, which was two days after Carrie turned five.
We threw Carrie a big party to celebrate her fifth birthday. It had a cat theme, just as she’d requested. I had purchased several stuffed kittens as party favors. I put them in cardboard box. I’d written “Free to a good home” on the box and let each of her friends take a kitten home as a party favor. (My idea. This was before Pintrest, thank you very much.) I had given all the kids in attendance a cat-ear headband, and a talented friend of mine painted their snotty little faces so that they looked like cats. One would think that, given a clean sheet of paper and carte blanche over subject matter, Carrie might have chosen to write about her party. She didn’t. She wrote about Dad. And sunshine.
This went on all year.
Pictures of me were few and far between, and where dad was always pictured being helpful and kind, I always seemed put out.
Dad even managed to get a shout out in my Mother’s Day card. The teacher used a template, a fill-in-the-blank sort of thing, as a way of getting the kindergarteners in her class to talk about their mothers. There were ten sentences total. “My mom’s name is _______. I like to help her ________.” That sort of thing. The card, by and large, was pretty spot on. My hair is brown. I like to shop. I go to work while she is at school. I cook her soup. But then I got to the nineth sentence: “She is funniest when … dad is.”
That’s right. Dad. Dad is funnier. Dad is such a friggin riot, she can’t even think of a single humorous thing I do in order to fill in the blank on my mother’s day card.
I may have had hurt feelings about Carrie’s preference for her father back when she was five, but I have grown to love their bond now that she is ten. My thoughts are these:
1) If I am to be honest, perhaps I am quick to do things for my daughter that make her look special to the rest of the world, buy her a pretty dress, teach her how to politely cut her food, where Todd is quick to doing things for her that make her feel special, even if no one else in the world is watching.
2) Carrie, like all children, is developing expectations about how fathers and husbands conduct themselves based on the way he conducts himself. If she finds her dad to be patient and helpful, if she finds him to be unconditionally-accepting, and if that sets her up to look for a patient, helpful, accepting men later in life, isn’t that a good thing? Even if she thinks I’m a total nag?
3) When I lose my temper and say or do something harsh, something that wounds her, Todd will roll his eyes after I leave the room. He will say, “You know how your mom is.” And his words, the roll of his eyes, will be the salve that keeps the wound I inflicted from leaving a scar.
4) Carrie’s personality is similar to her father’s. She deserves someone who understands her. It is okay if that someone isn’t me.
5) William likes me better. I’m sure of it.
So there you go. I’m at peace with my family. With my place in it. With Todd’s place as Carrie’s favorite parent. And when you stop and think about it, he is a guy I chose. Me. He is the man I selected to raise her. I did that. This all boils down to my excellent taste. So really, I’m still the better parent, and she is lucky to have me. Even if she doesn’t know it.