Both our kids got hit with the flu within days of each other. The boy (15) dragged around the house, macho in his pain reports, choosing mostly to suffer in silence. The girl (11) was terrified of throwing up and in need of intense coddling, so after my wife went to the office that morning, I sat with her on the couch as SpongeBob soothed her savage stomach and I nodded off between false alarms, waiting for the eruption.
When it finally came, I was ready. I pulled back her hair so the vomit wouldn’t get tangled in her tresses, held her hand, rubbed her back gently, and, just like my mother did with her six sick babies, armed myself with a cool washcloth for her brow and lips.
With the barfing came a bloody nose, a sprinkling of tears, a spray of tissues, and with all that going on, with me at her side, faithfully executing my daddy-nurse role as best as any daddy-nurse ever has, my daughter proceeded to exhibit her pre-teen multi-tasking skills by reaching past my arms, over the barf pan, and through the blizzard of bloody tissues to grab the phone.
Before I knew what hit me, she had my wife on the line.
“Hi, Mom. I just threw up. Yeah. Kinda brown. Um, no. A little better. Yeah, he’s right here.”
Actually, I’m not sure she said, “He’s right here,” because the fact is that, even though the whole thing got me gagging like a Joe Nathan in the post-season, it was like I wasn’t. There, I mean. Having just teared up a couple nights before at the Brit daddy-daughter drama that is “An Education,” I suppose I could’ve been heartbroken, but I’m too far gone for that. Her prepubescent body is changing, my wife is shepherding her through it nicely, and a semi-code of silence has been established in our house: No Boys Allowed.
It’d be worse if I hadn’t read in a parenting book once that at this age girls all but abandon their fathers, but return around age 14, when something like a friendship develops. Good to know, but at the moment, I am the clod put out to emotional pasture by the womenfolk, left to my silly music and sports and barbaric male bondings and blatherings. I’d suspected as much for a while, but the barfing confirmed I am invisible, obsolete; a minivan-driving stooge-servant living out a Loudon Wainwright III earworm:
Being a dad can make you feel sad
Like you’re the insignificant other
Yeah right from the start
They break your heart
And in the end every kid wants his mother
Still, even now, as I resign myself to a third-class passenger status in my own home, I am enlivened by two more memories: When she was 6 months old and sick with a urinary track infection, I spent four nights with her in the hospital. When she was 7, she stuck an eraser up her nose and we spent the entire night in the emergency room. I pinned her to the gurney as tool after tool was used on her nose, surgery was discussed, and when the doc finally popped it out, it was a shared moment of unforgettable triumph. Now I’m left to wonder what happened? To that connection? That trust? That daddy-daughter deal?
The morning after the eruption, as my wife got ready for work in the bathroom, our daughter climbed in bed with me. It was quiet. The sun was coming through the window. She snuggled up close. I kept my head on the pillow and my eyes shut.
“Thanks, Dad,” she said.
“For being with me yesterday. That must’ve been pretty disgusting.”
Jim Walsh grew up and lives in East Harriet.