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Returning to Daddy

By Dennis Pratt

I was a daddy for the first seven years of fatherhood: "Daddy, wait for me!!" "Daddy, be serious!" "Daddy, look at this!"

"Daddy" became music to my ears.

Before our daughter's birth, I had teased my wife that I wanted my daughter to call me "Sir." I had loved the intimate, nurturing, respectful father-daughter relationship depicted in To Kill a Mockingbird, and Scout had called Atticus, "Sir." My wife preferred practicality to romance, "Everyone is going to think that you have a cold relationship with your daughter!" With the confident patience honed over 20 years of marriage, she ignored me.

That is why, when we arrived at the hospital, I had no specific title in mind. "Father" was too formal and "Dad" too informal. I'd like to think that I wasn't fat enough for "Papa," and Speed Racer disqualified "Pops."

When I greeted our newborn on the warming table, a title bubbled up clearly from my subconscious. "I'm your daddy," I sung to my new daughter. Why "Daddy"? Perhaps by "Daddy" I wanted to answer the echoed cries of my sister? Or maybe "Daddy" suggested the unconditional love my mother reserved only for her stories about her daddy. Whatever the psychological reason, for the first seven years of Vivian's life, I thought of myself as realizing my ideal concept of a "Daddy."

But I found that I had failed. When Vivian entered first grade, she started replacing "Daddy" with "Dad." Neither my wife nor I used that title. Her classmates, it turned out, disapproved of "Daddy"; it was "too babyish."

I, on the other hand, didn't like "Dad"; for some reason, it connoted for me a passer-by, seen only on weekends before tee time, who promised large stuffed animals to insufficiently make up for his absence. I fought a determined rear-guard action. "Dad?" _ Silence. _ "Dad?! Come here!" _ Silence. "Daaaaad!" _ Silence. _ Silence. _ "Daddy?" She'd finally give in. "Yes, dear?", I would answer as though I had just then heard her. But her fear of being a "baby" proved stronger than my willingness to ignore "Dad." After just a few months, even though I would continue to consistently refer to myself as "Daddy," my daughter officially demoted me to "Dad."

In September 2008, for her fourth grade year, we started to educate Vivian outside of school. Similar to what many other homeschoolers have reported, Vivian's social and family relationships bloomed. We became a cooperatively learning family, and her friends were now from a set of children with similarly close family relationships. Her memory of the values of the schoolyard peer group diminished rapidly.

Four months into homeschooling, right around Christmas-time, Vivian started calling me "Daddy" again. She never announced the change. It took me a long time to realize a significant change had occurred. "Daddy" has returned.

Dennis Pratt homeschools in Westwood, MA. In a previous life, he designed businesses in emerging high tech areas, which turns out to have required the type of full-time learning that he is trying to teach to his daughter. His psychology of learning degree helps him motivate his daughter, his graduate work in computer science helps him explain esoteric science and math, and his business degree helps him teach his daughter how she can create wealth by following her passions.