Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m still a Midwest boy at heart. I scorn snow blowers and need all the exercise I can get to work off my beer and cheese. So why am I not on the line to my dad, cell phone stuck inside my stocking cap?
Well, when it snows in Philadelphia, there are three possibilities. One is that I am in New York, hopefully snowed in with my ladyfriend and marveling at the handiwork of the many maintenance men. Or, I am snowed in with Ronia, sleeping in on a shared snowday. Or, I am in Philadelphia all alone, with a commute of leaving my bed and going downstairs to my laptop.
In none of these cases am I up in time to beat my intrepid neighbors, dutiful homeowners in a neighborhood where the American Dream looks cute and obligatory. My entire double-length block is usually shoveled by the time I can roust myself, much less get Ronia into her snow attire. I am reduced to clearing my neighbor’s parking place for her, breaking the handle of her shovel. I have failed in both my neighborly and fatherly duties, not keeping my sidewalk clear for my daughter, not getting her outside and bundled up.
Recently my dad visited, catching the last flight to Philadelphia before the biggest blizzard yet. Despite that it was Friday afternoon and I needed to be cooking Shabbat dinner for my folks, my dad and I took time out to shovel another parking space for their car. We had a blast. My stress at the visit eased remarkably, and then further dispelled when they took Ronia overnight and a day, leaving me free to go to a party, get a haircut, go to yoga class, all things I tend to neglect. As if to remind me of his fatherly skills (aside from shoveling), my dad told me that people would always tell him they never saw him without a child in his arms. While I would never brag about such a thing–though I will for a second–it is true that I sometimes feel like people didn’t recognize me when I went out without Ronia on my chest. So I have succeeded there.
I took my dad to my friend’s dads book reading, he was schmoozing with the authors immediately upon arrival, trading notes about Midwest Labor history, totally at home in my neighborhood feminist bookstore. At dinner when my daughter reported on a trip to the Please Touch Museum with my mom, she reported giving a stroller ride to a “penis-girl doll.” My parents were unfazed, “yes some girls do have penises,” they mused. Ronia in turn is fascinated by their stories about skunks, asking my dad to cycle through all four of the ones he knows. When Ronia freaks out at having to leave a doll at the restaurant where she belongs, ( “I WON”T LET YOU LEAVE HER HERE!” ) my parents praise my patience. I bundle her into the car, as she grabs at my glasses. My parents are good parents, on my terms and theirs.
Like most children, I wish I had made my dad give me a crash course in some point in all the things he knows how to do that I don’t: build things, hunt, exercise regularly, be totally at ease in any situation. I guess we still could, we did go deer hunting. Failing that, I am lucky to have the actual father around to learn from indirectly. Grandparents make it so you can just be the parent you are.