Baseball is generally considered a game passed from father to son, but my dad played a major role in ensconcing me and my sister within Reds Country. I took it for granted until I began noticing the daily toll that girl-dading can extract on a man, even when pursuing stereotypically male pursuits with his daughter. It becomes positively sacrificial when he must enter her world instead of ensuring that she is integrated with his.

Claire’s Dad illustrated that the best dads don’t just give their baby girls a good-quality catcher’s glove. They escort her all the way through the worst forms of tutu and hairspray hell that Mattel can design for him.

It Is Time You Knew

It’s time you knew that I, a 46 year old with a Master’s degree and an AAA membership, occasionally bedeck myself at the plastic glitter explosion known as Claire’s. You know Claire’s even if you don’t; it’s that place you might remember in the mall that’s mostly pastel colors, front-stocked with unicorn-ears headbands and cheap phone cases with the target demographic of a My Little Pony just entering middle school.

In this way, Claire’s has barely left the mid-90’s, and I like that about it. But somewhere along the slow turn and re-turn of the seasons, Claire’s became more targeted towards little girls and less a place to find a really good turquoise hair clip with rhinestones. There’s a difference, and if you don’t know it, then you probably shop at boring places but also likely enjoy the benefit of looking somewhat like a functional adult.

“Find It.”

The difference became most apparent last week when my 46 year old self and I were in Claire’s perusing the fresh stock of fake flower crowns when a grim-faced middle aged man entered. In tow was what looked to be a seven-year-old girl and an actively annoyed five-year-old brother.

“Okay,” said the father. “Find it.”

The little girl turned a slow circle and said “Um…” and I knew this poor man was about to endure the lengthening of what was likely the worst experience of his life. Claire’s Dad looked about for assistance, but the counter was empty, the sole employee on duty involved in the delicate but necessary retail process of rotating the stock of the finest neon ponytail holders China had to offer.

Now, in its Full House era, Claire’s was a respectable source of scrunchies, but these days it’s more of a plastic tiara and fuzzy pink notebook joint, which means that you will find approximately as many dad-aged men within as you might in a breastfeeding clinic. It is simply Not Done, as this poor dad was discovering.

Seek and Destroy

“Is this it?” he said pointing at some random shiny thing, and his daughter answered, “…No?” and the absolute devastation on this man’s face struck me as that of a person who had been asked to empty the ocean with a teaspoon, but the teaspoon was in the dishwasher, so here, use this eyedropper. As I understand them, men are drawn to missions, but not necessarily ones conducted by the whims of a second-grader. They seek and destroy. They do not wander acres of retail just to see what’s there, and they definitely don’t do so when surrounded by stick-on earrings and fuschia ombre hand fans.

The little brother, having exhausted the entertainment offered by flicking at earrings shaped like slices of watermelon, began to try on lace gloves that featured felt flowers growing out of the fingertips. I was about to offer an aunt’s assistance when the entourage made for the counter, roused the employee out of what was clearly nothing less important than preparing for the Normandy invasion, made some sort of transaction, and began to clear out. Little Brother, long since suspicious of this entire operation, sprinted.

“I Have To”

As Claire’s Dad was going out hot, I said, “You’re a good dad,” which brought him up short. “Thank you,” he said. “I have to, you know?”

I nodded, because I did know. I’m not a father of a little girl, but my dad was, and my dad knew what was important. He wasn’t a perfect man, but he was a man who sat on the living room carpet with us to discuss the varying merits of buying Park Place. This, I strongly believe, is what has kept me from waking up in a  Tijuana gutter many times over.

I cannot imagine him within several football fields of Claire’s—he was the sort of man who was perfectly happy in Northgate Mall’s early version of husband parking, a sunken-living room sort of arrangement near the West Side’s first computer store-= but if I’d dragged him in there, he’d follow.

He was the one who took me to the video arcade while my mother and sister sank blissfully into the Junior department at McAlpin’s. My mother, for all her excellent qualities, viewed the arcade as the spare bathroom of hell, and I cannot imagine her even crossing the mall hallway to spit on the Donkey Kong machine.

The Great White Oak Baseball Combine

There’s no one way to properly raise a little girl. Sometimes we play with Matchbox cars and sometimes we play with Strawberry Shortcake and sometimes we play with both. My dad tried to coax us onto the diamond, bless him, but the single game of catch we tried began with softball gloves for Christmas and ended approximately seven minutes later in our grandparents’ yard with a bloody nose and a lot of screaming on my part.

The important thing is that his treatment of or affection for us of us changed not one iota after the Great White Oak Baseball Combine. He had better luck with soccer, which he never played– football wasn’t even attempted, given my early display of hand-eye coordination which, if anything, only disintegrated as I grew older– but gosh darn it, he tried, and both he and our mother were at our sides for not only the Reds 1990 season, but all the mediocrity in between.

And that was better than all the Donkey Kongs and glow-in-the-dark gummy bear necklaces in the world.


6 Responses

  1. LDS

    I don’t think I’ve been in a mall in a long time. Spencer’s was probably the most glittery store back then.

    • Mark Moore

      And dark with plenty of black lights. Still a couple of them around last I checked. I always felt a wee bit naughty going in there as a kid.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Some places make you take returns back to the physical store. *mad face* So I gotta every now and then.

  2. Mark Moore

    Ah Claire’s … one of the few non-jewelry stores or non-footwear left in the malls across the country these days. As the father of two girls, I knew it well. I wonder what the over/under on the number of ears pierced at a Claire’s is … 😮

    Nice piece, MBE. Vivid imagery, even if most of it is in some shade of pink.

    • Mary Beth Ellis

      Apparently Claire’s did a big promo a few years ago advertising that it had it its 4 millionth piecing! Mine was done at Earring Tree 🙂