“Da-a-a-a-d,” she yells from her bed. At this time of night it’s always something urgent: they can’t go to sleep, they need to pee, they forgot about their homework, or something equally distressing. Tonight’s emergency is her Strawberry Shortcake doll.
“She’s broken. Her legs are all ripped apart and her bum is cracked. Can you fix her?”
Stan is handy. Stan is resourceful. Stan is mechanical. Stan also hates Strawberry Shortcake. I think his disgust has less to do with the star of Berry Bitty City than it does her origin. Any mass-produced, petroleum-based toy promoted by armies of marketing professionals tends to have this effect on him.
He emerges from the girls’ room muttering, “Where is this Strawberry Shortcake?” By his tone,you might think he’s looking for a rat.
I point to its dismembered body lying in the corner of the living room and assume he’ll throw it in the trash. I’d warned the girls earlier that Daddy probably wouldn’t fix the doll, explaining that some things are just beyond repair, but minutes later I hear Stan humming through the floorboards. I can tell he’s in his basement workshop and I’m curious about what he’s doing. Could he be tending to Strawberry?
I go downstairs and see him turning a tiny piece of steel on his metal lathe.
“It’ll be a double hip replacement,” he says with satisfaction.
I take in the full scene as Stan details the necessary surgery: Strawberry’s remains scattered on his workbench amongst tools, screws and safety goggles; the bare light bulb hanging from the rafters throwing a shadow of his tall figure onto the cluttered floor. Then I picture him as his pre-parent self, looking into the future and watching with horror as he sees himself nursing a plastic doll back to health with power tools. Perhaps, along with the horror, is an element of fascination while the 30-year-old contemplates his certain evolution brought on by fatherhood. Because, while this whole episode can be partly explained by his innate drive to fix things, most of his new-found intimacy with Strawberry Shortcake hinges on one factor… his daughter.
And in the morning, when this same daughter wakes up and sees Strawberry’s legs rotating on an elegant piece of shiny steel, she’ll know her Daddy can do just about anything. Which is partially true; he’ll do just about anything for her.
Now Reader, at this point you may be bursting with pride (if you’re my mother-in-law) or more likely, gagging on all this sentimentality, but don’t worry–things are about to get real. Even though everything in the previous paragraphs is true, it isn’t entirely representative of our co-parenting relationship. I’m often critical of my husband’s ways with my children instead of being complimentary. Of all the things we disagree on, parenting has to be near the top of the list, which is unfortunate, because we spend a lot of time parenting, and when I could be celebrating his virtues; the energy he spends explaining how the world works, how he prioritizes family time, they way he comforts them when they get hurt, I rail against his flaws.
The next day I ask Stan how Strawberry is recuperating. (I’d gone to bed before he was finished with the fix.)
“Well, it appears there are some complications with the hip replacement. I put too much resin in when I attached her legs and the don’t work like they used to–she’s suffering from loss of mobility.”
I’m sure the girls won’t mind the error, they’ll just be happy to have her back. After all, her hair is still lustrous, her monstrous head expressive and wide-eyed as ever, and her fragrance as sweet and synthetic as always, so why focus on some stiff legs? She’s more believable if she’s less than perfect, and even with her flaws she’s still worth keeping. Kind of like Stan.