The guy in the green T-shirt and khaki shorts looked no different from all the other men abandoned on the benches in the mall, waiting patiently for their better halves to tell them to come down to the other end and wait on the benches there. No different, except his wife ditched him with a baby carriage that he jiggled from time to time.
As I watched, the jiggling turned into joggling. Then the joggling became wiggling. And, at last, he stood up and pushed the stroller in short back and forth movements while waggling it up and down.
Soon, a shadow of distress fell over the poor fellow's face. He rocked and bounced and pushed the carriage, a furrow forming in his brow. From a diaper bag, he pulled rattles and waved them in clipped motions over the carriage. Alas, when the magic rattle-wands petered out, the hapless father picked up the fussing baby, put it over his shoulder, and patted its back. He glanced around desperately, sweat glistening on his forehead.
The anxious man walked to and fro, occasionally rocking the infant by exaggeratedly swinging it in his arms. Still the baby cried. Still the father repeated all the same useless orchestrations. Still his eyes searched the crowd for his wife.
Seeing her nowhere, he put down the screaming infant and dug around in the diaper bag again, extracting containers, and mixing and blending and stirring. The concoction complete, he lifted the youngling and put a bottle nipple to its lips. Its crying ceased.
Shortly, Mother approached the scene of the quieted commotion, shopping parcels in hand, and gave her husband a disparaging grimace. She checked her watch and agitatedly shook her head. It was not meal time. Snatching the swilling pup from its father's grasp she chastised the man, who said, in self-defense, "He was crying."
The mama held her little-one in an apologetic cradle and ignored her spouse's plaintive plea. Her lips tightened as she examined the liquid level in the bottle. She dug in the diaper bag, removed a container, and peered into it. Not only had the incompetent dad, who persistently reiterated, "He was crying," not fed the infant at the correct interval, but he had also not properly prepared the formula.
Let it be known, however, despite all their baby blunders, fathers find their way. Yes, they hold babies clumsily, return them when they spit up, and spoon ice cream into 2-month-olds' mouths. Sure, they think every cry means, "Feed me." They would rather reinforce a Pamper with duct tape than remove it.
But those same ham-fisted dads teach their kids how to throw a football, cram their knees under small, white tables, sip tea, and politely converse with unicorns and pink elephants, and wrestle giggling ankle-biters on the living room floor. They explain the subtle differences between baseballs and softballs, and they empower their kids to assertively face bullies.
They say, "No, you can't quit." They help their children shake off the pain of getting hit by a wild pitch. And the day comes when a dad disappointedly asks his wife, "Why's he sitting with you in the bleachers?" and the mama, her arms crossed defensively, responds, "He was crying."
This Father's Day, by the limited powers vested in me, I grant complete absolution and forgiveness to all daddies everywhere for their bumbling ineptitude with babies. Furthermore, I award them thanks and appreciation for teaching their kids toughness and tenacity. And I extend warm gratitude for their patience with us moms.
Happy Father's Day!
Lucy Adams is a Columbia County native and McDuffie County resident, and author of If Mama Don't Laugh, It Ain't Funny. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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