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Dad's Side: Who's the Favorite?

In my recurring nightmare, my two little girls, Isabelle and Lorelei, are all grown up and in their early 20s. They are in the midst of a heartfelt discussion with an aged, somber man who is listening to their every word. They are explaining to this man how their father let them down. From the day they were born, my girls say, their father never really connected with them. In my dream, I desperately want to change the channel...but I can't. The somber man is a daytime talk- show host. My daughters, now engaged in a mud-wrestling contest, are guests on The Jerry Springer Show.

Because of similar creepy, foreboding dreams when my wife was first pregnant and ever since, I vowed early on that I would never be an emotionally absent father. I talked regularly to both of my girls before they even left the womb, and I read to them frequently in their first few days of life. I took them on outings to the park and restaurants before they could sit up in the baby swing or eat solid foods.

I did everything in my power to bond with them. Thankfully, everything worked out just peachy. For me, at least. You see, several weeks after Isabelle, and then Lorelei, arrived, my wife started having a recurring nightmare.

Our babies bonded with me, but with Susan, well, not so much. Granted, as regular readers of this column know, my wife suffered from postpartum depression after our daughters were born and was unsure of her role as a mother, so our babies may not have attached themselves as easily to her at the start. Still, no matter what the reasonable explanation  -- depression, a busy job that takes up all your time  -- it doesn't change the fact that when your infant bonds better and faster with the other parent, it hurts.

Geoff Williams is a Babytalk contributing editor in Loveland, Ohio.

Dad as household celebrity

That said, being the life of the party has its downsides, too, though admittedly not at first. In the beginning, I enjoyed my status as the celebrity of our household, glowing with the knowledge that Isabelle and Lorelei stretched out their arms to me, not Susan, when they had a choice. I felt like Sally Field did when she made her infamous Oscar speech back in 1985 ("You like me, you really like me!"). I could spend all day working in my basement office, then come into the living room and the girls would treat me like I was one of the Wiggles.

But I started feeling guilty. Susan looked like a sad-eyed puppy in the rain every time the girls went for me instead of her. I tried to argue that all babies go through phases where they prefer one parent over the other. "For 11 months?" Susan would retort. And: "For 12 months?" "For 13 months?" "For 14 months?" (We had this conversation a lot.)

There are other drawbacks to being the baby's favorite. My wife walks around freely when we go on errands or trips to the zoo, while I stagger behind her, lugging one or both babies. In the house, there have been times when I haven't been able to walk from the dining room table to the dining room chair without one of the girls wanting me to take her on the trip.

In the end, this is one of those rare moments in parenting where I have been right and my wife has been wrong. I'd like to repeat that: This is one of those rare moments in parenting where I have been right and my wife has been wrong. It was just a phase. It has taken a while, but our kids' enthusiasm is finally more equally divided. We'll probably never know if the phase was due to my wife's postpartum depression, my irresistible charm, or some silly argument (hardly worth mentioning) that Susan has invented about her being the disciplinarian and the taskmaster  -- bathing them against their will and forcing them to take medicine  -- and me being the one who hands out Popsicles. As I said, hardly worth mentioning.

What I can assure parents of is that babies do grow out of playing favorites. Isabelle and Lorelei now run past my outstretched arms to their mommy after they fall on the sidewalk or bump their heads. They hug her with as much abandon as they ever did me, and in a recent milestone, when Susan tentatively asked Isabelle, "Would you like to go to the store with me or stay home with Daddy?," Isabelle dropped her blocks and made a beeline for her mom. As Lorelei and I watched them leave and waved goodbye, I had the bittersweet realization that someday soon, gal pals will take precedence in Isabelle's life, boyfriends will beckon, and I'll be lucky if she remembers my name. Hmm, maybe I should talk about these feelings with someone. Anyone know Jerry Springer's number?

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