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Second in Command

At some point in the last few decades, the American male sat down at the negotiating table with the American female and -- let us be frank -- got fleeced. The agreement he signed foisted all sorts of new paternal responsibilities on him and gave him nothing of what he might have expected in return. Not the greater love of his wife, who now was encouraged to view him as an unreliable employee. Not the special love from his child, who, no matter how many times he fed and changed and wiped and walked her, would always prefer her mother in a pinch. Not even the admiration of the body politic, who pushed him into signing the deal. Women may smile at a man pushing a baby stroller, but it is with the gentle condescension of a high officer of an army toward a village that surrendered without a fight. Men just look away in shame. The world watches him schlepping and fetching and moaning and thinks: Oh... you... poor... bastard.

But I digress. I came home one night, relieved the babysitter, and found that my 8-month-old daughter, Quinn, had three bright-red spots on her forehead and, for the first time in her life, a fever. The domestic policy handbook clearly states that when anything goes wrong with our child, I am to holler for her mother and then take my place at her elbow and await further instructions. As I say, the American father of a baby is really just a second-string mother. But the first string was nowhere to be found. For the first time, our child badly needed help that, it seemed, only I could provide.

We happened to be living in Paris at the time due to a project I was working on, and a single phone call to a service called SOS Medecins fetched up a smartly dressed French doctor inside five minutes. He arrived in a little white truck with a cross on the side. He was easily the most reassuring doctor I have ever met. Treating a sick baby is more like treating a sick dog than a sick person, as the baby can't tell you where it hurts. To our new French doctor this proved no obstacle at all. He marched into the house, spotted Quinn, smiled knowingly, and said, "Varicelle." Chicken pox. Having diagnosed the disease from a distance of 15 feet, he then examined the howling patient for another three minutes. On top of the chicken pox, he found ear and throat infections, plus the fever I already knew about, plus a couple of unrelated, smaller defects. He was so efficient at finding diseases that I thought he would find she had the plague or something, but his work was so quick and self-assured that it was impossible to question any of it. Afterward, he sat down at our kitchen table and wrote out two long pages of illegible prescriptions. His visit took about 15 minutes and cost less than 40 bucks. Vive la France!

I trundled the prescriptions together with Quinn across the street to the pharmacy -- everything in Paris seems to be just across the street -- and came away with a huge plastic sack of cures. Then, with a truly fantastic display of heretofore unrevealed parental competence, I persuaded my child to swallow several of them.

All this was perfectly thrilling, and not simply because there is an obvious pleasure in curing one's child. Power was in the air. I was in charge here.

Then my wife, Tabitha, walked into the house.

"What's going on?"

Reprinted from Home Game by Michael Lewis. Copyright © 2009 by Michael Lewis. With the permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. This selection may not be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form by any means without the written permission of the publisher.

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