"You know what, baby?" I say to my one-year-old daughter, Cross. "Men who aren't married don't vote and are more likely to get gum disease because they don't have wives who make them vote and go to the dentist."
Cross answers with a gleaming smile, saying, "Eat! Eat!" or "Stinky!" Or she just cackles at my nonsense, stomping both of her feet to the tune of that hysterical laugh she inherited from her mom. I'm feeding her bananas mixed with avocado — which I call avoca-da-boo-yaoooo — or I'm changing her. Either way, the conversation continues. "Trump's election killed the post office. I swear, I mailed our next door neighbor a Christmas card and she didn't receive it until Valentine's Day!"
"Stinky!" Cross laughed.
When my wife, Caron, leaves the baby and me to our own little world, I take the opportunity to disobey the meticulous feeding, bathing, TV, and reading schedule she's created, for no reason other than showing Cross that I'm the cool parent. Now, me being alone with the baby is new. Cross was born two months before COVID-19 shut our nation down. Caron and I both spent all of our time at home together during that first year, so she was on hand to micromanage everything. Now, as the world slowly opens up, I force her out of the house — so that she can have some well-deserved fun, yes, but more importantly, so I can establish myself as the ally, the rule breaker, the one Cross should always ask first because she will always get a "YES!"
Don't get it twisted, we love Caron — more than anything, we really do — but we can't cut up as much when she is around. My wife is a lawyer, and she is really into rules, protocol, decorum, manners, structure, using a salad fork for salad, and other boring things like that. She can spend her free time googling new laws to follow, laws that aren't even enforced.
"Her food is separated into five color-coded containers — breakfast, lunch, a healthy snack, dinner and a lighter healthier snack," Caron says as she gathers her things to leave the house. "Are you sure you guys are going to be OK?"
"Yes baby, " I say, with one of those lemon-slanging used car salesman smiles. "Don't think about us. We'll be OK. We'll miss you!"
Caron will then run off a scroll of instructions for us, including the 12 different types of grease, African oils and hand-whipped lotions that should be applied to Cross' skin every two hours, proper methods of serving the food she prepared, and eight different outfit suggestions just in case we get the urge to go out.
"You're going to be late, Caron! Go!"
This is when she hurries back over to give us both one last big kiss, and then she's out of the door. Cross and I like to run up to the window to watch her car pull off, just to be sure she makes it out of the driveway and down the block safely.
"You know, Cross," I say to her. "I never figured out why you drive on a parkway and park on a driveway."
"Ut Ohhh!" Cross replies. "Eat! Eat!"
We don't do anything for the first five or ten minutes after Caron leaves because she always calls to run off a few extra instructions and casually give me tips that can earn me bonus points with her, like sitting Cross on the potty or giving her extra green vegetables.
"You know, you should never trust a person named after a city or state. I once knew a guy named Montana who bought a round of drinks for like 10 people then went to the bathroom and never came back," I tell Cross, digging through her food options. "So your mom wants you to eat this whipped-up spinach potato situation, but we can save that for when you guys hang out."
Then I'll pull out some grapes and blueberries, build a neat pile in front of her, and together we devour them—jamming smashed piles into our talking holes. When we finish, we split a huge plate-sized chocolate chunk cookie. A quarter of that cookie probably holds enough sugar to shoot her small body through the roof, so I only give her half because I want my baby to aim for the moon.
"Breakfast is as important as oxygen," I tell her, breaking off pieces of the cookie for her. "Lunch is really a stupid meal. When you get older, you can skip lunch for the rest of your life. I haven't had lunch since '88, and I don't miss it at all."
Once we're both loaded with sugar, I blast the SONOS to the highest level and we dance off-beat to the clean versions of Tupac, H.E.R, Jay-Z, Rihanna, NBA YoungBoy, Prince, Chaka Khan, Rick James, Drake, Teyana Taylor, Aretha Franklin, Nas, and Mary J's " My Life." When we wear ourselves out, I let her watch too much "Sesame Street" — so much "Sesame Street." Hours of "Sesame Street." Back to back episodes of Big Bird, Abby, Cookie Monster and Mr. Noodle.
"Never, ever be like Oscar," I tell her. "He's a hater. He lives with trash and he stinks!"
"Stinky!" she cries.
"Yes, baby!" I yell back. "Oscar is stinky!"
Cross loves that I let her binge "Sesame Street" — she even runs over and gives me big hugs in between segments before running back to the iPad to prepare for Elmo's happy, happy dance, dance. And it is in these moments, full of the smallest but sweetest displays of appreciation, where I realize how much I love being a Girl Dad. I love it more than anything in the world.
#GirlDad trended after the tragic death of NBA superstar Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna in February 2020. Friends and family took to the Internet shorty after Kobe and Gi Gi passed to celebrate how much he loved his daughters, and fans soon followed with their own. In a world where too many men spend hours gushing over their sons, Kobe made it cool to loudly and publicly uplift daughters with the same kind of praise normally distributed to boys. These tributes went viral. My timeline was flooded with photos from guys I didn't even know had kids who were celebrating their daughters with the hashtag.
I am not the kind of guy to put too much energy into hypotheticals — in this case, how I might have loved and nurtured a son. What I know is I love, love, love having a daughter.
"Hey, Cross. I love you," I tell her after one of those big hugs. "But I don't want you to think that I just love kids. I don't like anyone else's kids. You will never see me hugging another kid. I just love you."
After bingeing a month's worth of "Sesame Street," Cross and I like to spend some time throwing things from one side of the room to the other. I don't know what she can learn from this exercise, but it feel like every baby needs to learn how to throw. Tossing Legos, Snoopy, and the American Girl doll around is also a great way to burn some time while I figure out where in the world we're going to go now because we can't just sit in the house.
I look over all of the outfit options Caron has left us and choose the dress or the jumper option, but never the shoes she recommends. Caron likes to pair the baby's outfits with plastic sandals or jellies, bite-size Birkenstocks, fuzzy Uggs, or even tiny pointy church shoes that look like they emerged from the Reconstruction era. I like to put her in the same style of shoes I have on—whatever pair of Jordans, Nike Air Max, or Barkleys I'm wearing that day. And from there, we jump in the truck and cruise up and down the small blocks that make up my city, her city— through downtown, past the Harbor and by the place where I met Caron and asked for her number almost a decade ago, the spot where we liked to hang when we started dating, and over to where we were married. Then I roll near the block where my dad— her granddad — grew up, not far from where my grandma used to crack crabs on her front porch. We see it all and I tell her all about her history while showing off the old homes they don't make anymore—defining where they end and where the new ones begin—and how all of this will be different by the time she is old enough to drive.
"Are you going to drive me around when you grow up?" I ask in the rearview mirror, only to notice that our trip — along with my antics, the dancing, the talking — has put her to sleep. There's the nap Caron scheduled.
When we get home, I quickly try to wash our day off her, give her some vegetables, and get her ready for bed so that her mother can relax once she's home. We'll still wait for her for the final tuck in, though.
While we wait, I read Cross a book — "Mary had a Little Glam" or "Hair Love" — and tell her, "I am so happy to be your father. And I will cherish these days and the days to come for the rest of my life, always pulling up for you for any and everything. And I don't care if that means I have to sit my big self at a tiny table to join your tea party, or let you paint my nails during spa day, even though I hate nail polish and how it smells, or buy you a puppy and help you raise it. I will adjust to the change of you picking out my clothes and sneakers instead of me picking out yours, and that dreaded drive we will take to the movies on your first date. I'll proudly celebrate all of your wins, while being there to coach you through all of your losses. Whatever it is, I'm there."
I wouldn't want to be anywhere else in the world.
And at the end of my monologue, Caron has pulled into the driveway and rushed back into the house just to finish putting Cross to bed. It's too late, though, because the schedule she created works too well. Even when I don't follow it, our little girl is already knocked out asleep. But I notice I'm not the only one who breaks the rules. Caron makes a little too much noise, or invents some reason to go into Cross' room, just to wake the baby up for that last good night kiss, too.