My husband, Andrew, seems to connect with both of our daughters on some astral plane that I can barely even imagine. Sure, I’m the one with the hard dirt on mean girls and monthly visitors, but Andrew has an almost mystical ability to fathom how their little minds work that I’ll never possess.
Take, for instance, a trip to Puerto Rico we took with Andrew’s family when Nophie wasn’t yet one and Janie was three. Andrew’s mother, Steffi, and I stayed on for a few extra days with the kids after Andrew and his father returned to the States. I’d been a little worried about being on my own with such a young baby, who was weaning herself, and a busy preschooler, but my dear mother-in-law and I enjoyed our extended stay, and, happily, the kids had behaved well.
Then came our last day. The night before, Janie had desired — and acquired — a little stuffed kitty cat that came with her own tiny silk pillow from one of the shops in Old San Juan. As we got ready to leave that morning, Janie suddenly became obsessed with the idea that she needed to return the kitty to the shop. Kitty, she said, was missing her friends.
We didn’t have time to return to Old San Juan before our flight, which I explained to the distraught girl about 150 times, but she simply could not let it go. I begged. I pleaded. I attempted to divert her attention with Elmo videos and threats to throw the kitty away in the ocean… nothing would get Janie off the subject of returning that darn kitty to the shop. Steffi thought up ingenious ways we could address the problem of Kitty being lonely: Kitty would have new friends in Janie’s extensive collection of stuffed animals at home! We could return Kitty by mail! Nothing worked. Janie only became more frantic, more stuck on this one idea.
I’d seen her like this only once before. A few months previously, she’d spent approximately 600 hours weepily repeating, “Cake! Cake! Caaaaaaaake!!!!” at my brother’s 40th birthday party. Finally, around midnight, she vomited and fell asleep. It was almost like some kind of neurological fit. She simply couldn’t help herself.
After a good two hours of “Kitty has to go back to the stoooooore!” Steffi and I were exhausted. Steffi began grasping for some good spin to put on Janie’s habit of perseverating (which she’s since grown out of, praise all heavenly deities): “Maybe she’ll become a lawyer!” she said, over the sound of my daughter’s wails. “Or an auctioneer!”
Finally, I decided that having two parents means one of them doesn’t have to deal with things like this on her own, so I called my husband at work. He said, “Put her on.”
I handed Janie the phone. She listened quietly for a long time, then said brightly, “Okay, Daddy! Bye!” She calmly handed the phone to me and, for the first time in hours, began playing happily with her kitty.
Steffi and I traded stunned looks. “Honey,” I asked at last, “What did Daddy say?”
She shrugged. “I don’t remember.”
To this day we don’t know what Andrew said. “Ummmm,” he’d replied when I’d demanded to know what he had promised, threatened, or conjured that day. “Maybe something about returning the kitty at the store here at home?”
This wouldn’t be the last time my husband would have secret words that would work incredible magic on our daughters. He routinely understands what I fail to grasp. But I’ll be there with the mom talk when, at last, my time arrives.
We’re celebrating Father’s Day by celebrating leaning into fatherhood and by recognizing the extraordinary men that are our own fathers. We hope that it will inspire you to thank your own dad or the dad who most inspires you. Find more letters and stories about leaning into parenthood here. And, of course, find your own Lean In inspiration at LeanIn.org.