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Forget Perfect

Feathers, fathers and unforeseen favors

Men: Does taking your kids to the fair, or giving them a bath or going to a Cub Scout meeting count as a favor for your wife?

Well, sort of.

It's an odd paradox; every woman within a five-mile radius flutters her eyes and swoons when you display your parenting prowess. Yet nothing annoys your own wife more than you expecting gratitude for tending to the kids.

I know this can be confusing. We women are constantly asking (nagging) you to spend more time with the kids and then, when you do, we provide endless instructions on how to handle everything from proper nutrition to appropriate grammar.

So I can see where a man might be lulled into thinking that, if he performs the much-requested task - taking care of the children - and he does it to the high standards dictated by the mom, she would naturally shower him with gracious thank-yous.

But in reality, men who ask their wives to thank them are more likely to get rolled eyes and exasperated sighs than they are calligraphy notes on Crane paper.

Here's why.

Most women - including yours truly - believe that when we set up a situation for father/child togetherness, you are not doing us a favor by complying with our request. We are, in fact, doing you a favor by helping you improve one of the most important relationships of your entire life.

We don't want it to be a favor for us; we want you to want to do it for yourself. As for the payback? If you want to see a woman's face light up, don't begrudgingly agree to spend time with the kids, tell her you think it's the best idea ever and jump in with both feet.

Enthusiastic fathering sure paid off for my dad.

I grew up as one of four kids - the eldest daughter to be specific. One Thursday night each month my dad took me to "Indian Princesses," a YMCA-sponsored father/daughter group. It was the '70s and we all had non-PC "Indian" names; I believe Dad and I chose the imaginative monikers, Big Eagle and Squawking Dove. We also did father/daughter crafts, had cookouts and once or twice a year we went camping - just the dads and the daughters.

None of my friends belonged and it was common knowledge amongst the other neighborhood moms that my dad was the greatest guy in the world because he alone was willing to don a feathered headdress and trek across town to meet with the small band of merry men who made time for their daughters.

I still remember my best friend's mother sighing and saying, "Fran (my mom) is so lucky that Jay is such a good father."

She was right, my dad was, and still is, a great father. But he had more help than anyone realized. In the case of Indian Princesses, it was my mom who found the program, signed us up, reminded him to get home from work on time, fed us dinner early and watched the other three kids while we had our big night out.

As much as I love my dad, I doubt we would have spent all those nights around the tom-tom had my mom not set it up.

So how did Big Eagle's good deeds circle back to him?

His now-adult children adore him. We threw him a huge surprise party for his 70th birthday. We visit him all the time, showering him with steaks and martinis, and when he visits us we have the DVR ready with all his favorite political shows.

As for my mom? She's been dead for more than 15 years. But wherever she is, Big Eagle and Squawking Dove both want to tell her, "We owe you a heap big thank you."

Lisa Earle McLeod is a nationally syndicated columnist and the author of "Forget Perfect" and "Finding Grace When You Can't Even Find Clean Underwear." Contact her at www.ForgetPerfect.com.

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