When Emma was born, Kenny and I discussed what our parental titles should be. Dad? Papa? But we were so engrossed in diaper changes, feedings, and keeping up with everyday care that the discussion kind of went by the wayside. After months of us both referring to ourselves by the same name, Emma naturally took to calling us both ‘Daddy.’ Whenever she calls for Daddy, we both respond. What could be better than double coverage, right? And while there isn’t any confusion at home, I’ve since learned the hard way that there may be unintended consequences of having two ‘Daddies’ when we’re out and about.
Emma is beginning to talk now and managing to string words together. One short sentence we hear often is the simple question, ‘Where’s Daddy?’ It’s often her mantra when we’re apart, constantly seeking her other Daddy. But occasionally one of us will refuse her something and she’ll say, ‘Where’s Daddy?’ and wander off looking for the Daddy who perhaps will give her what she wants. She’s a bit like the velociraptor in the original Jurassic Park, testing all the fences systematically, looking for a weakness in one of them.
Normally, it’s pretty cute to watch. She may become a little stroppy when denied by both of us, but she knows her plan has worked before — usually without the caving Daddy knowing that she’s already been told no — and so it’s worth trying again.
Last week I was in a hurry, battling my way around a crowded supermarket megastore to pick up some dinner. I made the mistake of grabbing a handbasket, thinking it would be quicker than taking the time to strap Emma securely into the cart. At first, she was perfectly content to wander the aisles with me, usually holding my hand. Then, without thinking, harried as I was, I turned down the cookie aisle. Emma’s eyes instantly lit up.
She quickly toddled over to a brand she recognized and snatched them off the shelf. Not having time for negotiations, I took them from her and returned them back to the shelf and started walking away. In less than three seconds, Emma erupted into the biggest tantrum I’d ever seen. We’re talking a full-scale, screaming, feet-cemented-to-the-floor, eyes streaming, straight-armed tantrum. She turned so red, I was convinced she was going to burst a blood vessel in her eye.
I’m a fairly strong-headed guy, myself, so we launched an immediate battle of wills. I tried to calm her down without giving in, while Emma seemed determined to announce to the entire store that I was the worst father in history. A few passersby shared looks of sympathy, while others — clearly childless — shot contemptuous daggers at me as they instantly concluded I must be one of those awful parents who couldn’t control their feral child. After an eternity (or maybe just a couple of minutes — I can’t be sure), Emma was so worked up that her streaming tears mingled with beads of sweat, causing her long blonde locks to cling to her cheeks. Stressed out and abandoning the basket on the floor, I scooped her up to take her outside into the winter air to cool down.
In my rush for open air, I hadn’t noticed the two men uniformed security guards by the door. But they obviously noticed the dark haired, red-faced man marching briskly towards the exit with a blonde toddler kicking and screaming on his shoulder.
Just as I approached the automatic doors, between loud pitiful sobs, Emma decided to scream, ‘WHERE’S DADDY?!’
In a flash, the two security guards suddenly blocked my exit, one of them holding his hands up to stop me going any further.
Security Officer (sternly): “Is that your child, sir?”
Me (taken aback by the question): “Yes, of course!”
Security Officer (dubiously): “Then why is she calling for her Daddy?”
Me (finally twigging on to what was happening): “I am her dad… you see she’s got…”
(Second security guard tips his head and speaks loudly into his walkie talkie: “Possible abduction — store front.”)
Security Guard: “Do you have any proof she’s your child?”
Me: “Like what?”
Security Guard: “Please come with me, sir.”
Me (setting Emma down and reaching into my pocket to retrieve my iPhone): “Okay, sorry. Sorry. Hang on, let me show you photos.”
At this point every other customer in the area stopped and stared. A husband handed off shopping bags to his wife, as if his ‘have-a-go’ hero day had finally arrived and he was ready to charge at me if I made a break for it. I scrambled to open my phone and find pictures of us as a family, when I suddenly noticed that Emma had stopped crying. And then she gave me *that* look. The mischievous one I’ve seen a hundred times before. It felt like she knew what was happening. And, for a chilling moment, almost like it was planned.
I opened the folder of digital pictures proving I wasn’t trying to abscond with someone else’s child and handed it to the security guard. Then, out of the blue, Emma saved me. She reached up her little hands to me, and simply said, ‘Daddy.’
So I now have a family portrait as the lock screen photo on my phone, hopefully resolving the two daddies problem a little faster in the future. I can only imagine this will be one of many. There’s no great moral to this story other than: Kids are cute, but they won’t hesitate to frame you for kidnapping over a bag of cookies.