Dad of a Dry Dandy

Learning to love a landlubber

Michele's theory is that any amphibiotic predispositions Luke had at birth were erased when he fell under the influence of Erika, the refined daughter of friends of ours. During the heyday of her toddler salon, Erika was the Miss Manners of the tea party set on our street. Luke and Erika played nicely together setting tables and washing dishes in the style of a middle-aged couple with a strong marriage. Nick and Jake started referring to Luke as Erika's husband.

And I have to admit, there is photographic evidence to support this explanation of Luke's scrupulous use of liquids. While flipping through our family album, we found of picture of Luke in Erika's playroom, holding an empty teacup toward the camera. It's as though he is showing for posterity the way a cup should look--full of nothing but air.

Then there's the "Cousin William" factor. Cousin William is the meticulous only child of one of Michele's older brothers. Cousin William has big-boy clothes that are too small for Nick and Jake. When the box of hand-me-down vests, "shiny shoes," and tennis sweaters arrive, they look brand new. Michele marvels: "I guess Cousin William isn't hard on clothes."

Luke calls the hand-me-downs "handsome." He likes to try on different ensembles and wear them around the house. Partly for the thrill of sporting unblemished big-boy clothes. Partly to goad us other guys out of our slovenly self-satisfaction.

There are some days when I think it is working. His brothers are proving more responsive to his influence than I ever imagined possible. Just the other day, Jake shot some juice down his sleeve, and it ran down his side and emerged at his hip. He shouted: "That's incredible. I'm going to show Mommy." But then he toweled himself off, and actually put on a clean shirt. And Nick washed--and dried!--his fingers of syrup before tickling the piano keys.

I'm the lone holdout. I must be in denial. I find myself staring into the closet at all of those dusty ties. I can't imagine wearing them again. I've lost the will, never had the energy to dance around the kitchen to keep neckwear clear of strawberry jam. I find myself wondering: "How did I--of all people--become dad to a trio of would-be gentlemen?"

John Ramsay lives in Northfield with his wife, Michele, and their three sons. He teaches educational studies at Carleton College and is a member of the Northfield school board. His essays and articles have appeared in numerous publications, including the Star Tribune and Minnesota Parent.

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