Our family had a blast at Disneyland in California last weekend. What a treat! Like a lot of people, I think Walt Disney was in the Genius League with Steve Jobs and others, but I digress.
Late in the day, two of my kids remained with their stepfather and stepbrother while I ushered two others back to the hotel. In 11 hours we’d logged something like 15 rides, but it was upon leaving the park on the shuttle bus that I noticed something particularly special.
I sat near a darling little blond girl, around 2 years old, exhausted after a long day at Disneyland. She was draped over, presumably, her father, leaning the whole of her tiny little chest against his big strong one. And who I assumed were the tot’s mother and older sister were next to them.
The father’s arms were just right around the child — not too tight, not too loose — and she intermittently perked up to call out “city bus!” as another rig with big cartoon characters rolled by. Then she would look at her dad and giggle, and he would laugh with her, and then she would snuggle up again, close her eyes briefly, only to restart the whole “conversation” in a few moments.
What stood out to me is how safe she apparently felt in his arms. By all appearances, including rings and conversation, the parents were married. (How sad that one even has to wonder!) I have no idea if they were a happy family, but they sure looked it. There was no doubt that the child felt really secure and protected in his embrace. A picture really does tell a thousand words.
This was a man using his strength to be gentle and protective. The definition of manliness.
I admit, in watching the little girl, that I was charmed and saddened at the same time. Saddened for a culture in which so many babies are born to single moms. These children don’t have what this little one has in the context of a whole family. And they typically won’t. For a host of reasons, women who have children out of wedlock are less likely than other women to marry. Ever.
And in the lives of the shrinking percentage of children born into families with fathers married to and living with their mothers? Their dads will be demeaned by the culture as bumblers. The physical strength of their fathers, the tendency of a good man to want to use that strength to protect a woman and children, will be deplored. The idea that the little girl I saw, that any little girl or boy, gets something very different from her dad than what she gets from her mom — and that it’s equally important — will be laughed at.
Have you ever noticed that, in our lexicon, “to mother” someone means to show affection to that person, to the point of smothering? But “to father,” on the other hand, means to genetically contribute half of the DNA, and that’s about it? It’s too bad.
All of that was on my mind. But then I just let myself enjoy what that little one had right then. She was in the moment, feeling good and safe and happy in her father’s strong arms, with Mom and sister nearby — after a day of Disneyland, to boot.
Where a picture like that can still be seen — I think it’s beautiful.
The term “Disney Dad” is often used negatively to conjure up images of an absentee father who tries to buy his way into his child’s life. I think what I witnessed on that shuttle bus is the increasingly atypical, yet truly manly, version of a Disney Dad. Talk about magical.
Contact Betsy Hart at www.betsysblog.com.