• Amazing Gracie

    In An Excerpt From His New Memoir, One NYC Dad Finds A Way To Bond With His Daughter

    By New York Family

     

    In
    every relationship there comes a moment when you first betray the other person.
    If you’re lucky, this is also the last time you betray the other
    person—afterward you sit around the house with your face in your hands,
    penitent and utterly alone, promising yourself you’ll never do such an awful
    thing again.

    Whenever
    Gracie needs help now, any sort of help with a doll or a book or a toy, I go to
    her, and she responds by swiftly making it clear that she doesn’t want dad’s
    help. Who does she want? Mom. If I try and brush this off and help her with the
    doll or book or toy, finesse the moment by asserting agency as her father, she
    dissolves into enraged tears, shoves me away, and reaches toward her mother—the
    instant Jessica touches her, Gracie becomes placid and happy again, and grins
    with mother-love through the still-fresh tears weighing her lower eyelids. Our
    five-hour opera should have prepared me for this, but I’m somehow totally
    unready for the emotions tied up in this development, the sense of rejection
    that seethes through the simple act[1]—the
    first time this happens I’m so shattered that I allow Jessica to take over,
    then stand alone in our darkened bedroom for ten minutes to collect myself.
    I’ve been spurned by one of the most important women in my life, and somehow
    I’m unable to employ the plain sense I so badly need. Kids do this sort of
    thing, right? Don’t they? This is a completely normal turn of events—but the
    emotions involved cloud my perspective. I know what’s going on here. The cause
    of this widening divide between father and daughter is a logic series that will
    sound familiar to many working parents, one that renews itself into eternity.
    It goes something like this:

    I’m
    away all day, five days a week,

    earning
    the paycheck

    that
    pays the rent

    that
    houses the family

    that
    includes the daughter who does not connect with me because

    I’m
    away all day, five days a week,

    earning
    the paycheck

    that
    pays the rent

    that
    houses the family . . .

    And
    so on. This logic is doubly problematic because not only is it self-renewing—it
    also exerts a sinister power over your most selfish instincts.

    Example:
    whenever I carry Gracie in the shower (it’s easier than the bath, and quicker,

    and
    more fun, besides) she always responds to that first thundering rush by
    clinging desperately to my neck. The sensory input is just too overwhelming.
    There is real fear in that grip—a fear that telegraphs father-love and
    father-need. She clings to me as long as I keep her under that first rush of
    the showerhead, usually a second or two, and then I take her back out and she relaxes.

    The
    night after Gracie first rejects me, I take her in the shower and hold her
    under the

    stream.
    She clings to me with real fear, with genuine father-love and father-need.

    And I
    don’t take her out.

    We
    stay there under the noisy rush. She clings to me, and I let it go on as long
    as I can bear, my face burning with shame and relief.

    Keith Dixon has
    been on the staff of the
    New York Times for seventeen years. He is the author of Cooking
    for Gracie: The Making of a Parent from Scratch
    , The Art of
    Losing
    and Ghostfires. He lives in New York with his wife, Jessica, and their
    daughters, Grace and Margot. Visit Keith on the Web at www.readkeithdixon.com.



    [1]And I confess that this plays to a fear I’ve harbored
    since Jessica and I first talked about having a baby: “What happens,” I asked
    her, “if the kid just doesn’t like me?”

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