The Truth About Tatele: Fatherhood Is Very Sexy

THE EAST VILLAGE MAMELE

By Marjorie Ingall

Published June 06, 2003, issue of June 06, 2003.
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Jonathan owns bedtime. The ritual’s always the same. He holds Josie upside down so that she can pat the kitty good night. He changes her diaper and puts her clothes in the laundry bag. “What’s this?” he asks as he holds up her yogurt-stained shirt. She proudly yells, “Launny!” Then he puts eczema cream on her rashes and moisturizer on her dry patches, while singing a song to the tune of “Waltzing Matilda” called “Greasing the Baby.” (Josie now has a Pavlovian response to tubes of ointment. The moment she spots one, she starts singing, “Geesing da baby, geesing da baby…”)

Next Jonathan puts on her pajamas (which she calls “jammies,” because he calls them jammies, which is an indication of how little influence I have over bedtime, since “jammies” is one of those words I find absolutely shudder-inducing), has her whisper “good night” to the baby in the mirror, sits with her in the rocking chair next to her crib, reads two or three books of her choice or, more likely, one book, three times (current fave: “The Little Fur Family”). Then he kisses her head, hands her Pig and Bear, tells her “I love you” and tiptoes out.

Jonathan owns bedtime. But he says he loves mornings best. Josie is the most fun then. I often cannot get her to eat breakfast, but Jonathan can. He got her a “Monster Clubhouse” CD-ROM at Costco, which she now demands by saying “Monsters? Chair? Sit? Okay!” He hoists her into her high chair in front of the computer screen and clicks through various games she is too young to know are educational. She screams with laughter while stuffing cubes of cheese in her mouth. He talks seriously about buying her an ergonomic toddler computer mouse. I worry that it will get cheese in it. He builds her elaborate Lego structures, which she topples. She’s only 19 months old, but several months ago he got her a train set at Target. Together, they putter around the garden. To me, gardening is approximately as enticing as hitting my own head with a mallet, but Josie loves it. She can name most of our plants: sage, thyme, purple sage, asters, hydrangea, “ro’mary,” mint, “cat food” (that’s catnip to you and me). She’s working on “alyssum” and “nasturtium.” With the intensity of E.R. surgeons, she and her daddy monitor the progress of the tomato plants. She points to the wee green globes and says, “Tiny! Look!”

Josie has Jonathan’s palate: a taste for meat, sour yogurt and especially pickles. At her first birthday party, when I tried to get her to taste the cake, she cried. She wanted a full-sour from Russ & Daughters. I prefer half-sours. And cake. I have a sweet tooth the size of Rhode Island; Josie sits in her high chair demanding capers. If I hadn’t seen her come out, I wouldn’t be sure I’m the mother.

Josie has Jonathan’s focus and temperament. I have a picture of her trying to pour water from one bottle to another. The way she’s concentrating, you’d think she was Niels Bohr. When Jonathan hacks the TiVo, creates a spice rub for a roast or updates my dad’s computer operating system, he has that same look. I’d like to think her sense of humor comes from both of us, and I’d like to think her ability to sing entire songs and memorize every one of her books comes from me. But when she is thwarted, when she screams, throws things, turns purple with fury — well, I blame Daddy.

The midwife told me we were going to have a girl. I called Jonathan at work to tell him — and worried. Did my husband secretly want a boy, the way I imagine most men do? Jonathan’s honest reaction was relief. His first comment: “I won’t have to teach her to throw.”

Josie has my last name. Jonathan offered me that, six years before we had children. When I finally took him up on it, he didn’t backpedal. (He geekily pointed out that Josephine Olive Steuer Ingall’s initials spell a variant on her nickname.) He will no doubt teach Josie to run Ethernet cable, hotwire a car, build a robot and cook multi-course dinners despite having nothing in the pantry but a wizened lemon, all of which are skills he possesses in spades. I will teach Josie the art of accessorizing and getting boys out in dodge ball, which are my particular gifts.

We light Sabbath candles as a family. Six years ago I wrote about how moving and thrilling it was to light a menorah with my first serious Jewish boyfriend. Now I look at my husband holding our daughter, who is so thrilled by fire I fear she may be one of the X-Men, or at least Beavis, and my eyes get so teary the candles look hallucinatory. I’ve always thought Jonathan was attractive, but when I watch him with Josie, I am both grateful and aroused. Why don’t people talk about the aphrodisiac power of watching your husband with your child? Seeing how his supply of love seems infinite doesn’t make me feel shortchanged; it makes me feel enriched.

And now it’s almost Father’s Day. Despite my well-known loathing of Hallmark holidays, I have to give Jonathan props. On the Dad front, he’s tops. I’m not saying our life’s all challah and Legos, of course. When money is tight, we fight. And in this economy, money is tight. Jonathan’s doing a startup. He’s a Midwestern boy who wants to be a provider but also wants to be an entrepreneur, and there’s always tension between his risk-taking and his conservative tendencies. And we don’t always fight fair. He’s the king of picking a fight and overreacting to perceived offenses and slights; I’m the queen of the low blow, the offsides tangential attack.

Jonathan proposed to me on the Skyway to Tomorrowland at Walt Disney World. He’d carefully plotted out the place he wanted to propose (rejected second choice: Flying Dumbos) and refused to share our gondola with others. I still feel like we’re on the Skyway to Tomorrowland — it’s not the most secure ride, but there’s so much to see, and I want to stay on.

E-mail Marjorie at mamele@forward.com.






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