It wasn’t my baby boy’s first word. Or second. Or even third. But when he said it, I knew he was talking to me.
Oh my gosh, he said it again. With a big, slobbery smile. And two chubby little arms reaching up to play with my nose. The boy is obviously a genius.
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In no time at all, the little rugrat figured out that “Da” made me very happy. Just say the magic word and Da gives horsey rides and plays “so big” with arms that are still too short to reach above the little guy’s head. And plays peekaboo behind a cloth diaper.
Da gives cookies. And when baby accidentally drops his spoon off the high chair, Da picks it up again. And again. And again. And again. ...
Da gets to read “Goodnight Moon” and “Where’s Spot?” (Hint: He’s not under the stairs.). He rocks little boys to sleep and sings. “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad” and the “Chiquita Banana” song, mostly. It doesn’t matter if Da is a little out of tune.
Da holds on tight when little heads bump into fireplaces. And holds a hand when little feet take baby steps. One day he lets go and ...
Atta, boy! Daddy’s boy.
Daddies are the luckiest guys in the world. Daddy gets to lift a little guy — sometimes two — onto his shoulders so they can watch the parade go by. Daddy walks to the creek with his buddies to throw rocks in.
Daddy catches little guys coming down the big slide at the park and, when nobody’s looking ... goes down himself.
Daddy drapes sheets over chairs to make tents and remembers the flashlight when it’s dark under there. He plays hide-and-seek, but doesn’t hide anywhere too hard. But harder than behind a cloth diaper.
Daddy has to have a comfortable lap. It’s good for reading books and learning letters and, one day, having his buddy read a book back to Daddy. A little buddy can crawl up in Daddy’s lap and fall asleep watching an old movie. Then Daddy gets to carry him to bed and put on his jammies without waking him. “Tucking in” is a very important Daddy job.
Daddy has to be in pretty good shape to climb trees, give piggyback rides and run next to the bike when the training wheels come off. Faster, Daddy, faster.
“Look, Dad, I’m riding all by myself!”
Dad is a whole new ballgame.
Maybe that’s because Dad gets to coach the T-ball team. And all the other teams on up the line. He gets to play catch till it’s too dark to see the ball. He teaches rookies how to hit.
Dad knows everything. “Why is the sky blue, Dad?” “Where does the moon go during the day?” Those are the easy ones. “Is the checkout person a boy or a girl, Dad, and how can you tell when they have clothes on?” Dad hopes he doesn’t ask that one too loud.
Dad puts worms on hooks and takes fish off hooks. Dad referees fights between brothers. He helps with homework (ask him anything about Appomattox or Conestoga wagons) and teaches all the words to the oldies Dad plays on the car radio. Dad explains why hamsters die and why grandpa died. When Dad plays hide-and-seek, he can’t find the kids anymore.
Dad gets big lumps in his throat at grade school graduation.
The next words Dad hears are: “So, Pop, when can you teach me to drive?”
Pop isn’t as easy as it sounds. Pop tries to help with homework, but he doesn’t understand the math. Pop takes kids to the mall. Pop’s socks get mixed up with the boys’ socks in the laundry. Imagine Dragons has replaced the Fab Four on the car radio. Pop gets beat like a drum at chess and Ping-Pong and other games that he used to have to lose on purpose once in a while.
Pop puts his foot through the floorboard when the student driver gets the car up to 40 mph. Pop ties his son’s tie so he’ll look sharp for the girl he’s taking to homecoming.
Pop sends his boys off to college, one at a time. Hoping they’ll remember to floss, be nice to everybody and not play hide-and-seek with the professors. Pop can’t wait till the next time they come home, even when home is just a base to visit friends.
Pop has a beer with his son and talks about a new job halfway across the country. And one day, Pop packs up all the boy’s worldly possessions into a moving van and waves goodbye. There’s that darn lump in the throat again.
Sometimes, I forget what wonderful journey it was from Da to Pop. Till the phone rings and ...
“Hi, Pop, it’s me ...”