Anna comes storming into the house, looking for her sister.
"Sasha!" she screams, "I have an announcement!" I look at her. This news is not also for me? Apparently not.
"Daddy's taking us for ice cream!" she says to Sasha.
Well, then. And here we go again. Another summer fling at the Frosty Kiss. I'm never actually invited on these ice cream excursions, although no one seems to mind if I tag along. It could very well be that no one notices if I'm there or not. Ice-cream-going is a dad and daughter thing. The plan tonight, as I understand it, is for chocolate-vanilla swirl, no sprinkles.
It's funny because I remember exactly this with my own father. Just out of nowhere, and all of a sudden, he would make the ice cream offer, and my sister and I and various neighborhood kids would jump up and down, and then we'd all pile into the Oldsmobile. The fathers in our neighborhood took turns at this. Kickball in Judy's back yard usually meant a Mr. Hampton ice cream invitation, whereas fort-building at Maria's meant a Mr. Colanaro outing. And if it was my dad hosting? I would beam. I would grow five inches right then and there. I remember one time he took us in his Corvair convertible. That's right, a convertible. We all wore scarves to tame our hair and the air felt like rushing water through our fingers and, yeah, that was my dad driving.
Did our mothers ever join us on these outings? It's funny, but I can't remember if they were there or not. I can, however, vividly recall Mr. Hampton's tan forearms at the steering wheel, and the way the hair on the back of Mr. Colanaro's head was so short it looked like velvet you wanted to touch.
Fathers, even our friends' fathers, were special. Mothers were nice enough. Mothers were always around. Mothers were shadows that lurked while you gagged down your peas and did your homework and brushed your teeth and figured out how to successfully poke your head through the neck, instead of the arm, of your pajamas.
But fathers stood out. Remote and occasional, fathers were the celebrities of the home. "Daddy's wearing a vest!" we would shout, on the days he came to breakfast in a three-piece suit. "Daddy's coming to the pool!" we would scream, when on vacation he would actually be standing there, in a bathing suit, and holding a towel.
As I grew up, I assumed this was a generational thing. My childhood was anchored in a time when moms stayed home and dads went off to work, day after day, until the weekend, when they mowed lawns and tinkered in the garage, and then you would find them asleep in the hammock. They just weren't around much, like bald eagles. Any sighting was a thrill.
Now here I am, the mother of two girls. We're a two-career family, with mom and dad around at about the same rate. I am sure neither of my girls has ever found my husband sleeping in a hammock -- largely due to the fact that I'm usually in it. (Now that I think about it, I got him that hammock for Father's Day a few years ago. Hmm.)
I have no explanation as to why he gets to be the special one, although the obvious answer is that he's a he and the rest of us are shes. He's the only one among us who walks out of the bathroom with a face covered in shaving cream -- always a significant event in our house. My girls still talk about the Saturday he shaved off his mustache two years ago. It is a marker in their lives.
The other answer to dad's popularity probably has to do with the fact that in our family I'm in charge of routine stuff, the feeding and watering, the lecturing about vegetables. This is the sort of mom I like being, and I'm glad that the dad in our house takes on the nasty business of toenail-clipping, the cleaning of wounds, the removal of gobs of gum from hair. Out of these chivalrous events, he naturally emerges the hero, just as my dad did.
And good for him. More to the point: Good for my girls. Having a dad who is indisputably special is a way of knowing that you are, too.
So, we all go together to the Frosty Kiss. A big spender, he encourages both girls to get cones as large as they want. They go for the jumbos. He orders nothing. (I get a Diet Coke with lemon. Does anybody care?) And so they crawl on his lap and chirp and laugh and thank him when he volunteers, over and over again, to teach them how to slurp ice cream faster than it melts. "See, sweetie, you just have to lick all the sides down," he says, eating more and more. "Like this!" Someday they'll figure him out.
Jeanne Marie Laskas's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.