Grading Dad (Has it Been a Year Already?) …

Planning your child's first birthday party is exhausting. So much goes into the big day—invitations, cleaning, food making, present buying, decorating, etc. Then there's the 45 minutes of yelling that your wife aims at you for not helping with the invitations, cleaning, food making, present buying, decorating, etc. In fact, she's peeved because the one job she gave you—cut the grass—is still hanging around on your To-Do list, falling somewhere after "Test freshness of month-old bag of Doritos" and "Blow nose."

Honeydew, honeydon't, honey-sleep-on-couch.

When getting things together for Ella's birthday (July 17), I started to reminisce about my first year as a dad. Life changed pretty dramatically. I no longer snooze until noon. I no longer hang out until 2 a.m. I no longer yell at the TV when the Reds are losing (though I do use some well-targeted hand gestures). And when something stinks in the house, I can no longer assume that it's me.

But this is all small-picture stuff. This is how dadhood affected me, and it's not me I'm worried about. It's the big-picture—the Ella-picture—that concerns me. After all, I've just spent the past year grooming her to be a little Klems. So I began asking myself the age-old question that all dads ask themselves when staring into their daughter's beautiful baby eyes: Do I buy a shotgun now or just lock her in her room until she's 30?

Then I realized that that's a silly question. I'm going to do both.

Moments later, I asked myself a more important question: Am I doing a good job? Yes? No? Maybe so? Catch a tiger by its toe?

"If you asked me to grade you, I'd probably give you a 'B'," says my wife. "Put on some pants and I'll bump you up to a 'B+'."

A "B" doesn't sound so bad. It's a grade that doesn't require too much extra effort but will still get you into a good school, preferably one with a mean-sounding mascot like Bobcats or Bearcats or Banana Slugs (thank you UC Santa Cruz). But it doesn't sound great. And I want greatness for my daughter. I want an "A". I'll do anything to get an "A". What will get me an "A"?

"Cutting the grass."

Well, anything but that.

Of course, it doesn't really matter what my wife thinks because she's biased—plus, she doesn't grade on the curve. What does matter is what Ella thinks, which got my brain a'clickin: If Ella could fill out a report card, how would she grade me?

First, we have to set the subjects. The modern six-key skill-set judged by schools include English, Math, Science, History, Geography and Gym. On the Dad Report, we'll call this category Knowledge. Second, dads always need to be available for their kids, so we'll call this category Accessibility. Dads have to be strong to protect their kids; therefore we add Strength to the mix. The fourth category will be Love, because without it there'd be no point in this exercise. And finally, the last grade will be for Fun.

Without further ado, I will make my case for each before Ella fills out my report card.

Why I Deserve an "A" in Knowledge: (English) I'm an editor. (Math) I can work the calculator in my cell phone. (Science) I used to watch "Mr. Wizard's World" on Nickelodeon. (History) I know the years the Cincinnati Reds have won their 5 World Championships. (Geography) I can name each and every capital for all 47 states. (Gym) One word: Softball.

Why I Deserve an "A" in Accessibility: I was there to drive you home from the hospital.

Why I Deserve an "A" in Strength: I often pick you up and swing you around the room, like an Olympic figure skater twirling in the air. And I've only dropped you twice.

Why I Deserve an "A" in Love: If you took every hug I'd ever dished out in the 28 years before you were born, it'd add up to about one-third of the hugs I've already given you. And this number will likely double by the end of the month.

Why I Deserve an "A" in Fun: I laugh at your farts.

After weighing all the evidence, Ella happily gave me an "A"—or, at least, I assume she did (she hasn't mastered writing, yet). How could she not? Since July 17, 2007, every day has been a new, fun and fascinating adventure, and I've loved being a part of it. So when she blows that first candle out next week, I can celebrate not only her first year of life but also the gratification in knowing that I haven't actually screwed her up (yet). In fact, I get to take a little credit for her being so wonderful—whether I cut the grass or not.

If you'd like to send her birthday wishes, feel free to e-mail her at She'll respond as soon as she can.


Brittany's Top 10 Ella Moments
From Year One (Letterman-style)

10. Mom & dad collectively getting poo'ed on when we were changing her on the pack & play table. (approx 2mo)

9. Hiccups on the porch swing when it looked like her lil head was going to pop off.

8. The first time she danced while standing at her music table.

7. When Mel put Ella's Christmas dress bottoms on Ella's head & they looked like a beret.

6. The first time tasting green beans when she just opened her mouth and let the ball of food fall on her bib.

5. Kissing herself in the mirror.

4. Her "running" around the house and squealing just like ET.

3. Jumping like a crazy woman in the jumper once she really got into it.

2. Any time we can get her to laugh really hard by just making a silly face.

1. When I let her go fully naked for one minute and she stood at her music table and peed on the floor.

The Life of Dad is updated every other Friday (barring the call of family duties). Thanks for stopping by and following my attempts to be a good dad, husband and co-ed softball player. I hope you visit again. -- Brian

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