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Dad's view: My daughter's the apple of my eye. So why isn't the feeling always mutual?

A couple of weeks ago I was convinced my beautiful, fun, adorable, light-of-my-life daughter could not freaking stand me. When 2-year-old NJ and my wife came home at the end of the day, the kid would stay about an inch from her mom and squeal with disdain if I made a move to hug her, or pick her up, or talk to her, or even look at her.

To the untrained eye, it appeared as though my daughter loved her mom and didn’t love her dad. I’d been through this before, though, so I saw it differently: My daughter loved her mom and didn’t, for the moment, like her dad.

Courtesy Bob Trott

Bob Trott with the apple of his eye, daughter NJ.

Of course, I am perfectly aware that a child that’s only a few months or years old isn’t consciously favoring one parent over another. It’s something that happens, for any number of reasons, and has no long-term repercussions. And NJ offers up plenty of love and devotion for her old man, usually. But these stretches when she plays favorites …

When NJ was a baby, we often had a hard time getting her to sleep. One evening in particular, my wife put the quiet, dozing child in my arms and started dinner. Immediately she (the baby) went from zero to 90 with the shrieking. Loud, agonizing, non-stop, red-faced bawling. This was the climax of a rough, daddy-hating week for the infant, the final proof I needed that, for whatever reason, the kid had chosen her mom and I might as well move out by the weekend.

I stalked into NJ’s room and put her in the crib, then stalked out of the house to “get some fresh air.” After a self-pitying walk around the neighborhood, I sheepishly returned home and apologized to my wife. And explained myself. She said something along the lines of “Don’t be ridiculous, she loves you!” By now, NJ was asleep.

I scoured parenting blogs and did some reading on the topicand found explanations like this:

“It’s a natural part of a child’s built-in attachment system to have one main squeeze. This is the go-to person as they’re developing a sense of self and figuring out how relationships work. Whether or not your child wants one special person or will spread the love depends a lot on her temperament.”

Makes sense! I bought it. Still, though: My feelings were hurt, my ego bruised. How can the apple of my eye not nestle down into a peaceful, innocent sleep as I hum “Lawyers, Guns and Money” to her? I spent your entire first year of existence at home taking care of you, you ungrateful little—Yikes, was that out loud? Sorry.

I felt better about the situation after mentioning it at our weekly PEPS meeting. Two other people said the dad in the household was getting the cold shoulder. I went home that night feeling a little better about things, and in a couple of days NJ took the “Get Away Daddy!” banner down and all was well.

Until the next time it happened. And the next. And the phase a couple of weeks ago.

To those of you wondering “What did you do to deserve your toddler’s scorn?” I emphatically say “Nothing! Honest!” But there may be one thing I can point to for an answer.

Once the initial up-all-night-with-the-baby period was over, whenever NJ occasionally would wake up in the night, my wife would head downstairs to see what was up. A combination of factors – my wife wakes up easier than I do, NJ preferred her to me at 3 a.m., and my wife insisted on handling almost all of these instances (that is a completely true fact, I promise) – led to Mommy becoming the de facto Nighttime Rescue Squad. A pretty powerful bonding phenomenon for a toddler, cuddling with the person who saved you from a nightmare. Eventually I couldn’t calm her at all in the wee hours, so my wife assumed the role full-time.

The no-daddy occurrences got shorter and less frequent and then seemed to disappear altogether, so I was a little surprised when it happened again recently. Oh, I played it cool, and only occasionally thought “Oh, this is it. I’ve lost her now!” And now it’s over and there are more hugs and cuddles than I could have imagined.

A few nights ago, though, this happened:

“I love you, Daddy!”

I gave my self a mental high-five.

“I love you, Mommy! You’re my best friend!”

Ominous, no?

 Bob Trott blogs about his adventures in parenting at Dad Solo.