Move over Pinocchio, this new Daddy’s got strings

Daddy Diary #8: The Puppetry of Parenting

What does a puppet parent looks like? Imagine a new form of entertainment if choreographed by a drunk, one-legged Danny Kaye and a zombie cheerleader.

By Chris Lackner

“I’ve got no strings so I have fun, I’m not tied to anyone. How I love my liberty, there are no strings on me!”

Sure, Pinocchio made those words famous. But they also describe my motto before becoming a first-time, 37-year-old father.

For the last 10 years, I have enjoyed a rare combination: disposable income and disposable time.  With apologies to Walt Disney, I’d add an extra verse or two to my own song (e.g. “I’ve got no strings, so I drink beer. If I sleep in, I’m in the clear. How I love my drinks sudsy, there are no strings on me!”)

As the father of a five-month old, I now have a different kind of fun… but the puppet strings are both many and unbreakable. Mommy and Daddy often feel like puppets – our daughter a mad-cap, unpredictable puppeteer.

She has a lot of pull. Case and point, something I’ve coined “Daddy Cirque du Soleil.” This largely involves me frantically waving blankets or articles of clothing above my daughter’s crying face while humming circus music. For whatever reason, it is the No. 1 tonic for tears in my household. The Ringling Bros. circus may have created “the greatest show on Earth,” but I’ve created “the greatest show in… this bungalow!”

“Four stars!” says our wee one via my unscientific “goo goo ga ga” translation. “It beats the sad spectacle of watching Daddy trying to dress me, but I reserve five-star ratings exclusively for breast milk.”

“Disturbing!” think our passing neighbours, who often get a full display of this staggering routine through our living room’s bay windows. “Imagine a new form of entertainment if choreographed by a drunk, one-legged Danny Kaye and a zombie cheerleader!”

Ah, the puppetry of parenting. I haven’t counted all our parental strings, but our baby is already highly skilled at yanking them. Our daughter is a Master Puppeteer, and we are at her whim: “I don’t like this anymore; do something new! I want that! No, wait, I want the thing I was just bored with! I’m tired and need to go to bed. Stop making me try to sleep; until you do, I am going to scream like I’m being murdered so the neighbours question your parenting skills! I’ve soiled myself… yes, again; please change me. I’ve soiled myself, but if you change me I’ll do my murder voice again. Get up… now; this five-star milk stand is supposed to be open 24 hours; I demand to speak to a manager.”

I shudder to think the strength of her will once she masters our language. Geppetto was a total pushover, but we’ll be utterly powerless.

On the other hand, sometimes I get to play puppeteer, too. Hand and finger puppets have become our daughter’s favourite toys. The hardest part for me is trying to remember what completely random accent I’ve assigned to animals so my daughter can tell them apart. I can already tell the scars from my puppeteering are going to be the subject of a future parent-teacher meeting. “Mr. Lackner, we’re a little bit concerned. Your daughter is confusing the other kids about the animal kingdom. She keeps insisting that all moose talk in a thick southern drawl, and that all sharks speak in an almost insultingly-poor Irish accent. On a related note, your services will no longer be required as a parent volunteer on our upcoming field trip to the zoo.”

Parenting is about split-second decision making – especially when it comes to creativity. What voice should a new dinosaur puppet make? If your first instinct is “kind of like a poor-man’s Cookie Monster,” then we’re birds of a feather. Speaking of, my baby speaks to her felt friends in pigeon language – often while shaking with near-uncontrollable excitement. It’s amazing to watch her imagination take flight.

Of course, Daddy and Mommy are coming to realize that the puppet strings will only grow in number – and get longer and thicker – over the years. Given its already been well-established that I am going to be the “Good Cop” in our house (my wife has already had to set a “one-toy limit” for me every time we enter a baby store), what levers will our future teenage daughter be able to pull on her softy of an Old Man? (I don’t stand a chance.)

The majority of my friends put off parenting until their mid-30s to focus on travel, hobbies, relationships and careers. We did the same. For us, the hardest adjustment was going from our own Masters to full-time Puppets. In my home, we only now comprehend that our new “show” is on a never-ending run – even as we fall in love with the spotlight, and give ourselves up whole-heartedly to our pint-sized puppeteer.

As for my “Daddy Cirque du Soleil” production, I suspect it’s is going to need to be retired before long. All too soon, the magic will be lost in watching Daddy wave a sweater or blanket around like a deranged aircraft runway marshal. It likely won’t play well at 12 months – let alone at a five-year-old birthday party.

But this Puppet will be waiting for the perfect embarrassing moment to sever his strings – at least momentarily. I’m already planning to bring back my epic routine at a choice moment… namely a boyfriend (or girlfriend) coming over for a meet-the-parents’ dinner, or – most likely – on my newfound overlord’s wedding day. I may be a Puppet now, but for that one moment I’ll be the Master of Cringe-Inducing Dad Comedy.

How I’ll love my liberty, there won’t be strings on me.

Illustration by Victor Bonderoff, The Ex-Press
THE EX-PRESS, January 23, 2017


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