Finding Favor

A mom and her son


By Joe Barker

There are many baffling aspects to child raising. Why does food taste better from the floor? Why would you want to wear your pants on your head? What's wrong with shoes? Why would you eat mud? But perhaps the most baffling of all is children's sudden whims; likes and dislikes that change in a flash. From those favorite books, toys, and clothes that are suddenly rejected to the teddy bear or story you haven't thought of in months that is suddenly all he wants. The same is true of people: for a month, Marty will be all over mommy, then one day it's “mommy go away” and only daddy can get him out of bed. How they suddenly decide that this is the only person they want in their life and why, just as suddenly, they change their minds again is beyond me.

Today you're my favorite

Marty is a lucky boy. As an only child with a stay-at-home daddy, a live-in nanny, and a mom who usually works from home, he is surrounded by people who love him and have time to play with him. While he is all of our favorite, he likes to pick and choose which of us is his favorite. Varying his choices on a rotation we have no hope of understanding.

Vindication at last

At the moment, daddy is the favorite. Obviously, I appreciate the attention; after 40 long years someone is finally giving me the unquestioning devotion I've always thought was my due. What validation of my superior character and personality. 


At this point, before I get too bigheaded, I should probably remind myself that we've been through similar attachment issues with both his nanny and mommy. In fact, if you were feeling cruel you might point out that I'm actually the last person he's become attached to, but please don't—my fragile ego doesn't need that kind of bruising. 

Indeed only a month ago all the attention was focused on bonne maman, his French grandmother, who had come to visit bearing gifts and an apparently unmatched skill with toys. For a time, every train track had to be built by bonne maman, every Duplo castle constructed by her fair hand. For exhausted parents it was marvelous; possibly less great for someone suffering from jetlag and tricked into visiting with promises of a restful beach holiday.


Don’t leave me

A feature of all Marty’s attachments are the despairing screams he gives when he is separated from the object of his affection. When he was devoted to his nanny, bedtimes were a nightmare. We had to sneak her out of the house while he was distracted with food and ensure that all the doors were locked and curtains closed. If he caught even a glimpse of her, there would be inconsolable tears and bedtime had to be indefinitely postponed as we tried to calm him down. During the day when she needed lunch or took a break from Marty, I had to be on constant alert, for if my attention drifted for even a second, he would be bursting through the kitchen door screaming for her return. 


Similarly, when we were last in the UK there was a spell when only mommy could do bedtime. If I took him to bed there would be sobbing and escaping. The moment my back was turned he would leap from his bed and hurl himself downstairs in search of mommy. Once she was found, he would cling to her until she took him back up to bed, while I was left swearing and fuming—the very picture of a failed father.


Eventually we decided that drastic action was required to break this pattern so we went for a pre-bed family walk and abandoned mommy in a field. Then once we were back home, no amount of screaming, escaping, and searching would uncover a mommy. Martin eventually fell asleep with daddy, but only once we had thoroughly searched the house, twice, and done a lot of screaming—mainly from Marty, but I contributed a few despairing sobs.

Love it or loathe it?  

Such attachments are challenging for all concerned. I'm writing this while sitting in a cafe eating cake. As regular readers will know, I like cake, a lot, so this hardly counts as a hardship. But the reason I'm eating my daily cake in a cafe rather than at home is because I’m not currently allowed to do anything alone in the house. I can't take a shower, go to the toilet, nap, eat, or even sit down without Martin bursting into tears and demanding that I stop and come play with him. This makes completing any task much more complicated than breathing nigh on impossible. 


While I yearn for an unsupervised toilet trip and a few quiet minutes to drink a cup of tea, my wife and Marty's nanny just wish he wouldn't scream so much when I leave the room. Though his cries of “daddy, daddy!” are music to my egotistical little ears, they are heartbreaking for his other loving caregivers.


I know just how difficult this is because when he was attached to his nanny, I was frequently reduced to impotent swearing and even tears as Marty would catch sight of her and instantly abandon whatever enthralling game we were playing to howl until she came to him. I found it difficult not to take this as a rejection of me as a person and of my parenting.

This time it's forever

The fact that he has formed such attachments before does not dent my certainty that this time he really means it, and it will last forever. As a recalcitrant teenager or stressed student, he will still be coming to me for hugs and be as certain of my brilliance. Of this I have no doubt. 


No doubts at all; nonetheless, I'm wary of any signs that his affection might be wavering. So it is that at 5am I’ll be lying in bed, with a part of me hoping that this time he'll let mommy get him out of bed and stay downstairs for more than five minutes. Yet at the same time I'll be looking forward to hearing the patter of feet on the stairs, the thumping run across the landing, and the cries of “daddy, daddy!” as he bangs through the bedroom door and tries to drag me out of bed. What a confirmation of my value, in his eyes at least. The joy I will feel at his hug will be more than adequate compensation for another early morning.


It is as I feared. I have been toppled from my post as favorite by my nemesis: his nanny. Much as I am enjoying the opportunity to drink tea and play with my phone uninterrupted, I miss the adoring hugs and am hurt by the frequent instructions of “go away daddy”. Once again my Duplo and puzzle skills are judged to be inadequate, and my hugs are only to be tolerated if no nanny can be found. Does Marty not realize that as a stay-at-home dad, my very raison d’etre is to look after him, and by his rejection he risks provoking an existential crisis? But hark, I hear pattering feet and growing cries; perhaps he’s found a use for me again. 


Photos courtesy of the author.

About the Author

Having enjoyed taking his son to BAMBI playgroups over the past months, Joe is excited to volunteer with BAMBI. He and his wife moved to Thailand from the UK in 2018. In 2021 they were delighted to be joined by their son, Martin. They love exploring Thailand as a family, especially anywhere with a playground or sand.