When it comes to my father, it’s fair to say they don’t make ’em like they used to. Nearly 80 years old now, he was the original Modern Dad. He would do anything for me: read me stories in his radio-announcer baritone, shepherd me to piano lessons, stay up past midnight in case I called him to collect me from an ill-fated high-school party. And he never kept me waiting a moment: his punctuality will go down in the annals of our family history.
That said, he was never much help on the domestic front, to the dismay of my mother, in particular. Yes, he set high standards for loading the dishwasher and made a decent cup of tea, but to this day I’ve never witnessed him whip up so much as toast in the kitchen. I doubt he’s ever changed a diaper or even filled a bathtub to a bearable temperature. Those things, along with egg-boiling, lightbulb-changing, clothes-washing, even microwaving leftovers was Mom’s domain.
So when a last-minute business trip came up while our regular sitter was on vacation, I naturally sought out my mom to help with the children for a week. Alas, she had other plans. My dad, however, was champing at the bit to spend some extra time with his granddaughters. I hesitated not a jot to buy his airline ticket over. I was desperate.
I spent the next week fielding warnings from other family members who feared the girls would turn up at school with matted hair and empty bellies, smelling of bathroom accidents. Or that Dad would fall ill from exhaustion. Or both. I admit there were moments I regretted not going down a more professional childcare route and told him as much. He insisted he was up to the challenge. And he was so earnest, I had to give him a shot.
Since we overlapped for a week, I resolved to teach my father the basics my mom never did. It started organically, after Dad poured me a glass of wine in a slanted Doidy cup that had been sitting in the back of the cupboard since the kids were weaning. Next I performed a tutorial for turning on the gas stove – then turning it off, when it became clear Dad insisted on employing the igniter. I reminded him that people – even small children – enjoy more than two inches of water.
I resolved to write a daily schedule in half-hour increments, outlining the girls’ favorite cereals, the type of milk that accompanies it, who likes what drink and how much of it. I went over appropriate spring wear, the approximate volume of toothpaste to squeeze onto their toothbrushes and which toothbrushes would send them into paroxysms if you deigned to pull them out of the bathroom cabinet. As I went along, I realized I’d even have to specify the number of hugs and kisses each girl required at the school door.
Directions for the TV and DVD player, incorporating the various remotes, took up the better part of a page, such are our priorities. By the time I’d reached the ‘acceptable nightwear’ section, I’d written enough to fill a novella.
It was with some trepidation when I set out that weekend to the airport. But all reports from my legions of spies were positive. Dad was a success. He came out of the week energized like a man of 39 (his ideal age). The little one, I was told, even formed an attachment to her big, hairy granddad, and photos snapped on iPhones and forwarded via email proved it. Word filtered out to the outer regions of my extended family and the naysayers ate their words. We were all wrong about Dad: he’d retained that fatherly instinct he so obviously had in the ’70s and ’80s and improved upon it for the new millennium.
My dad was perhaps the most surprised of us all that he’d pulled off five weekdays of mothering, including several playdates and a trip to the gym. In the end it wasn’t my meticulous list-making that helped him – the girls could’ve told him everything he needed to know, save for the directions for the stovetop, which I predicted he’d never use anyway. His love for all of us motivated him, his inherent punctuality got every task done on the nose. And we all got the chance to relive a bit of the good, old days.