By Eric S. Elkins
Simone and I have had pretty much the same bedtime routine for most of her life. It goes something like this:
1. She gets ready for bed (“brush face, wash teeth, jammies on”) while I make her some Yogi Bedtime Tea
2. She crawls into bed and I lay beside her, bedside lamp on, and I read a chapter of some epic novel to her (voices and all), while she drinks her tea out of a sippy cup
3. I find a place to stop reading, she grouses about “one more page,” and then I turn out the light
4. She sings the sh’ma, a very important Jewish prayer, and then we snuggle for a few minutes before I kiss her head and leave her to her slumbers
Many, many months ago, I decided it was time for us to read “The Hobbit” together. It took at least a month or two to get through. But we both loved it so much, we went right into the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy without even taking a break. After we’d finish each book, we’d watch Peter Jackson’s movie version.
Little did I know that this foray into Middle Earth would turn from a nighttime routine into a lifestyle decision for my daughter.
I wrote recently about the nascent geek goddess living in my house, but I didn’t explain just how deeply Simone loves the world created by Tolkien — not just the film versions, which were so well-wrought, but the books themselves. She re-read “Fellowship of the Rings” at least three times this summer, crafted her own hobbit tunic from a large T-shirt and fabric markers, and has even taken to reading the many pages of the appendix at the end of our collection — pages and pages of Middle Earth minutiae that she can recall at will. This includes the pronunciation guide, the backstories of several characters, and even some of the history of regions in the fictional world.
So it was Simone who brought it to my attention that September 22 was mentioned as both Frodo and Bilbo the hobbits’ birthdays in the novels. And she was the one who figured out the crazy coincidence that we would most likely finish the last book in the trilogy on that exact date! In fact, Simone had some specific ideas about how she wanted to celebrate her favorite characters’ birthdays.
And, once she told me what she had in mind, I knew I really had no choice but to make it happen. I mean, how could I deny a real-life celebration of the end of our literary adventure, especially when the date was so propitious?
So, the week before the big day, I started researching recipes. The day before, in spite of an unreal amount of work on my to-do list AND a speaking engagement at a local Tedx gathering (video to be posted soon), I found myself driving across the city to find the special ingredients I needed. Exhausted from a full day, after we read the penultimate chapter in the novel and Simone was settled in bed, I stayed up late making Lembas cakes (the elven food our heroes ate on their long journey).
After I woke Simone up early the next morning (and she opened the little elf leaf clasp I ordered for her, to wear to school that day), I made her an omelet with three kinds of mushrooms (she loves, loves, loves mushrooms, and so do the characters), and packed the Lembas in her lunch, wrapped in paper towel “leaves.” Once I dropped her off at school, I came home and taught myself how to make rabbit stew with ‘taters (another staple of Samwise Gamgee and Frodo Baggins).
We walked through the door that evening, a comfortable rustic scent of sage and thyme filling the house.
We filled our hobbit bellies with savory rabbit stew and fresh bread before starting our bedtime routine. And we finished “Return of the King” that night…the last chapter takes place on September 22, so it was all very lovely and poetic. For Simone, it was the perfect culmination of our time reading the book together. For me, it was a gesture of devotion; creating happy, memorable experiences for my little girl.
Friends and Twitter peeps who learned of my efforts were generous with their kudos — they saw me as a wonderful father who was creating lifelong memories of dad/daughter experiences for my little girl. And I appreciated those words of support. But I also couldn’t help wondering if I’d gone overboard; if I had taken on too much, more than I should have, considering how over-committed my life is right now, with work and my community organization and obligations and everything else. Was I spoiling my girl at the expense of my own well-being?
No. I don’t think so. Because making Simone smile, and feeding her passions (whether it’s dinosaurs or monotremes or geek lit) is good for her development and supremely satisfying for me.
Which got me thinking about something else…I just might make a kick-ass boyfriend someday.
Because being the kind of dad I am — one who goes to great lengths to identify and create opportunities for growth and joy for my daughter — comes from being a good listener. I know how to do fun stuff with and/or for Simone because I pay attention.
I’m betting that I’ll be able to do the same thing for a grown woman, too — I’m already in the habit of listening and scheming and coming up with little details and big surprises, so why wouldn’t that translate to a grownup relationship?
Actually, I know I have it in me already, because as early as the first date with someone I like, I’m listening for preferences and passions. Before the first kiss good night, I’m already thinking about gestures both grand and goofy that would make her smile. If it’s one of the rare occasions when I’m being smart, I’ll keep these ideas to myself until a later time when it would be appropriate to share. But…well…I think it’s established that “appropriate” is not an adjective that resonates for me very often.
But it’s interesting to wonder if being a father is also preparing me to be a better partner. Some women I’ve dated over the years have opted to not stick around because they wanted to be the number one person in my life. They didn’t relish the idea of sharing me, or knowing that I put Simone first. But there have been many more who saw my dedication to my daughter as a positive thing — a promise of something good that ran deep in me.
But what if it’s even more than that? What if my daily challenges and struggles (internal and external) to become a better father are actually strengthening my ability to sustain an adult relationship? What if my intention around raising Simone could make me a better spouse some day?
That’s some exciting stuff to think about.
I also learned this summer that having someone around who pays attention to me and the things I love and am interested in is pretty fulfilling, too. But that’s a story for another time.
Eric Elkins’ company WideFoc.us (http://widefoc.us) specializes in using social media and ePR strategies to develop constellations of brand experiences, delivering focused messages to targeted segments. He’s also the author of the young adult novel, Ray,Reflected. Read more of his Dating Dad chronicles at DatingDad.com , or tell him why he’s all wrong by emailing email@example.com.