If he was in the shower when we left for school, he drew a circle and a dot on the fogged-up glass of the door for "goodbye." If we flew somewhere without him, he met us at the airport, always wearing the same red-and-blue-checked cotton shirt that jellied my knees with the gladness of seeing him again. "Who do you love most?" I asked, "Robert or me?" And he said, "Don't be silly—your mother, of course." He was not exactly kidding, and we screamed with indignation and glee: Our beautiful mother! We felt the same way! Years later, though, our father would fall unpredictably and somewhat dottily in love with a brown Standard poodle. What a relief to raise a dog after the worry and complexity of children! Or so I imagine. Opinions did not need to be proffered about the dog's tone of voice, length of shorts, or sulky posture at her grandmother's dinner table—or about how close to her eyeball the dog penciled in a smudge of black liner. The dog needed to be on a leash, sure, but not to keep her from growing up too quickly. And the dog was able to spend her whole life just wagging around our father in her needy way—"Look at me! Look at me! I'm your dog! Aren't I great?"—without even pretending to mature and make adult conversation.

You didn't want me to grow up too quickly

Only now I'm not sure I can at all.

Uh-oh, Dad!

These days I watch my own young children with their father. Our daughter rubs her cheek on his and complains dotingly about its roughness; our son curls up in his lap, big-kid legs folded up like a giraffe's. They reach sleepy arms from late-night car seats, and their dad lifts them, carries them, whispers "I've got you" and means it in every possible way. Years later, maybe they'll roll their eyes when he counts the holes in their earlobes or frets over their berserk finances; maybe they'll rage and rebel and grow more independent than I ever have. But one day these kids, too, will scan the drugstore aisle for the right card that won't be there—the one that says,

I know it's a pain in the neck,


But it means the world to me—

Your agreeing to live


Catherine Newman, a columnist for , is the memoir Waiting for Birdy.


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