This article is sponsored by Bitty Baby™ from American Girl
When I sit down to play with my daughter, my goal is to create a memory that she’ll keep for the rest of her life. Ambitious, I know!
But it’s more aspirational than anything. Shoot for the moon and land among the stars; Shoot for a lifelong memory, and have a great time together. Or even just make my daughter laugh a little. It’s a win no matter the outcome.
I hate when people say you can’t be friends with your kids and instead you need to be a disciplinarian. I don’t feel the two things are mutually exclusive. My daughter is one of my favorite people in the world to hang out with; we have such a good time. Nobody makes me laugh harder. I’d consider her certainly to be one of my best friends. The thing is, she respects my discipline even more because of that dynamic. When she makes mistakes or needs guidance -as all kids do- she trusts me because our relationship is rooted in being friends. She knows I’m there for her as much as I’m there to look after her. It’s a great balance for us, really. So when we hang out, we have a blast. And not every time, but many times, I catch myself wondering, “When she’s older, will she think back and remember all the fun times she had with her dad?” I think she will.
She constantly says and does things that take me aback. It’s like looking into a mirror at a tiny female version of myself. We have such a similar sense of humor, for one thing. Our playtimes are very much rooted in making each other laugh. One of our favorite pastimes is called Bitty Baby Impressions. It sounds like an avant-garde art project, but let me explain. Over the years she has accumulated quite the collection of Bitty Babies, from the people who make the American Girl dolls. She loved them as a little girl, and they still hold a special place for her now. Originally we’d play together and she would give each of her dolls their own character and personality. Normal kid stuff. But as she got older, and developed her own sense of humor, the game has…evolved.
To start, each of us selects one of her Bitty Babies at random. Then we each give our doll a name. Often it’s a ridiculous made-up name. But usually, we name the doll after someone we know. Her favorite thing to do is name her doll after me. What follows can only be described as an improv roast battle with the dolls!
We voice the dolls and have them talk to each other. Undoubtedly we do ridiculous voices: crazy deep, or an obnoxious falsetto, or of course the classic cartoonish accents. If her doll represents me, she turns it into a caricature of me, exaggerating my mannerisms or things I say all the time. Relentlessly making fun of me. It’s HILARIOUS. To see her imagination come alive, and how that changes over the years is so enlightening into the kind of person she’s becoming. But it also showcases all the lessons she’s learned from me that really stick with it. We may be trying to make each other laugh, but it’s clear she’s learning how to listen, how to understand other people. Essentially: How to care.
Sounds weird right? But it combines all the best parts of being a kid: toys, imagination, playtime with your dad, and hilariously sick burns. And since being a parent is the best job I’ve ever had, I take a little pride in seeing her emulate my parenting in different ways over the years. And man, do we laugh and laugh. It’s the best. Last week we laughed so hard my wife came in to check on us to make sure we were okay.
The laughs are the best, but the most priceless moments are when I catch her emulating my parenting in more sentimental ways. Sometimes, when she thinks I’m not looking, I’ll see her playing the game on her own, pretending to be me or her mom. But instead of making fun, she’s acting caring and empathetic and nurturing. Recreating moments when we bandaged her boo-boo or read to her at night. I’m not going to lie, it catches me off guard! As parents, we often feel we aren’t doing enough or we’re falling short of what we think we should be. But seeing my parenting through the eyes of my own child – seeing her version of me as some kind of dad superhero? Man, that gets me every time. I promise to do my best to not stray too far from that idealistic perception she has of fatherhood. And in doing so, I know she’ll be a great parent herself someday.
So at the end of that day, did I achieve my aspirational goal? Time will tell. But I hope if you ask my daughter when she’s 71 what she remembers about her dad, she’ll say that he gave her the same care and attention I watch her emulate today. And If I’m lucky she may even tell you about that one time 60 years ago when she used her Bitty Baby to make her dad laugh so hard he had tears in his eyes.
Bitty Baby™ from American Girl helps dads and daughters discover a world of make-believe together while learning the importance of love and kindness.