Bedtime is between my husband and daughter. They close the door and an entire world unfolds. They have their own mythology and their own music. Together they conjure a special cast of characters who appear only when the lights go out. The routine lasts for at least an hour. I hear them reading, I hear them laughing, I hear them playing guitar, I hear them whispering. Eventually everything goes quiet. I wait for a long while. If my husband does not emerge I know that he has fallen asleep on her floor. Despite suffering from insomnia, the sound of his daughter breathing softly by his side always knocks him out.

Their private language continues during the day. They look for the moon everywhere they go. They do pratfalls and comedy routines. When she’s having a meltdown he carries her off and they have a chat, he talks to her about her choices, he patiently redirects her energy, they make a plan. She emerges with a smile. He cooks dinner with her by his side. They construct dollhouses out of milk jugs; they build forts. They go to concerts and rock out. They make the same face when they are thinking really hard and when they are baffled.  They both laugh loudly. In the morning my daughter likes to hold his face in her hands. “Hi daddy,” she says, like she’s missed him terribly.

A few weeks ago this father-daughter duo headed off to the museum. They were going to enjoy a day experimenting with electricity and blowing bubbles. They were going to discover science. It was going to be great. But when my husband returned he seemed down. He reported that the day had been a lot of fun but then gave me a look that said, “I have a story to tell…later.” After the little one went to sleep he reported the following events:

Sage was playing with a string. I don’t know where she found it but it was tiny, nothing to think twice about. At one point she was sitting by herself a few feet away from me when this older woman came up and scolded me. “Did you know your daughter was playing with a string? I had to take it away from her. She needs someone to look after her. You need to look after children. They need to be watched. YOU need to watch her.”

I immediately felt rage on behalf of my husband. Sure, people have pulled me aside and informed me that my daughter’s shoes were on the wrong feet, but they were. And yes, on a few occasions, I’ve gotten scowls and comments when I let Sage run naked in the early fall or go without a hat in winter, but no one has ever pulled me aside and given me a rudimentary lesson in parenting: “Children need to be watched.”

I couldn’t help but think that this woman’s harsh response was due to the fact that Sage was with her DAD. According to the great mythology of parenting, she was accompanied by the inferior sex- the bumbling male who can’t change a diaper and would rather be watching football than chasing after his kid. And this mythological “dude” could not be farther from my husband.

I immediately began composing a letter to this woman who had such little faith in the Y chromosome.

Dear Mean Lady,

You have no idea what you’re talking about. I’m the one you should be yelling at. I’m probably the person who gave my kid the string in the first place. Did you know that I floss and then it over to her to chew on? I have pockets full of dirty little parenting secrets. Nearly every time she’s fallen out of the bed I was the one on duty. I let her eat chocolate. I accidentally taught her how to say “shit”.  One time I looked away while we were in a public restroom and found her licking the floor. I put her clothes on inside out all the time. When she was really little I occasionally used to bribe her with my boobies.

You should know that my husband and she once got trapped in an elevator for two hours. Do you know what he did the entire time they were in there? He recited her favorite bedtime stories. From memory. He stroked her hair. He whispered, “everything will be okay,” even as the fire department was prying the doors open with a crowbar and ax. Do you have any idea what I would have done in that situation? I would have screamed, I would have hyperventilated, I would have cried for my mommy, and then pissed myself. I would have puked. So have a little faith in daddies.  My husband and I parent fifty/fifty. We tag team the day and he can’t wait for his turn. He once changed a poopy diaper on a five-by-five bathroom floor. He can work a puppet in such a way that it truly becomes real. Spread the word. Tell all the doubters. I don’t know what you are used to but there is a brand of fathers that can rock a Baby Bjorn, swaddle a screaming infant and finger paint with the best of them. Tell your friends to pay attention. They will surely see dads at the park during the day. They will hear children being soothed by the male variety. They will smell a pot of stew being stirred by a hairy hand. They will be inspired.

As I signed my imaginary letter and came back to reality I noticed my husband was not in the room. After several minutes he returned to the couch. “Where did you go?” I asked.

“I went to Sage’s room,” he said, “didn’t you hear her crying?”

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