The Dad I Used To Laugh At: My American Girl Experience 10 Years Later

My daughter beamed as I took out my phone to snap a photo of her in front of the American Girl store.  Her birthday wish was now complete.

It was satisfying to see her so radiant although I had to chuckle about spending Father’s Day in a doll store.

Fatherhood has certainly forever changed me.  I’ve become the near forty year-old that I laughed at as a twenty-something.  I must admit, though, it feels damn good.

Sunday was not the first time I’ve been to an American Girl store.  Nearly ten years ago, my wife and I took a long weekend trip to Chicago where we stumbled across the brand’s flagship store.  At that time, I had no kids and no idea of what the store even was.

Back then, maneuvering through the swarms of giggling little girls and chasing parents made me completely uncomfortable.  I was out of my element – having grown up with three brothers, this store was an unknown world to me.

I remember there being stacks of boxed dolls everywhere.  People scurried in all directions as if it were the last day to shop before Christmas.  I was completely overwhelmed and entirely uninterested.

Vivi (age 7) at American Girl Orlando (June 2016).

Vivi, age 7, at American Girl Orlando (June 2016).

This past Sunday was different.

I listened in admiration as my daughter proudly paraded our family around the same endless stacks of dolls.  She kept our line moving and interested as if she were an experienced tour guide at the Louvre.  She knew the dolls by name and took time to point out the unique traits of each.

I smiled as she seemed to end each monologue with, “I think I might spend my birthday money on her.  I’m not sure yet.”

After her guided tour was over, it was time to head to the salon for makeover of her “old” doll, McKenna.  My daughter was entranced by way the associate was able to undo two years of hair experiments-gone-wrong.

The mischievous grin adorning my daughter’s face as she looked at her now-like-new doll was telling.  Her smirk was retaliation for two years of me telling her, “You need to treat that expensive doll better or it will need to be thrown away.”  My daughter will forever categorize similar threats as idle thanks to the miracles worked at the doll salon.

After McKenna’s makeover, the search for the birthday purchase continued.  I must admit that I felt a bit outside of myself.  I didn’t demand that my daughter hurry.  I never complained about the price tag or the fact that the accessories were all sold separately.

Ten years ago, our trip was fifteen minutes long.  On Sunday our meter ran for well over an hour.

I didn’t mind at all.  I’ve been fully transformed into the doting parent I scoffed at a decade ago.

There are times when I think I’d love to return to those less busy days.  Part of my Good-Bad Dad nature tends to wish for the past when the present gets chaotic.  It’s easy to recall the times when I was unbridled by the responsibility I have today – often thinking how much I miss only having to take care of me.

Although those thoughts never go away – especially when the baby screams at 3 a.m. or when the devilish toddler bites his sister (again) – they are much easier to get over because of days like this past Sunday at American Girl.

I used to think that fully embracing fatherhood was about providing for your children while losing my own pursuits.  I’ve come around to the fact that I haven’t lost anything – I have simply found a new version of me.

I am certainly different from a decade ago.  My goals are different.  Happiness is captured much differently now.  My most meaningful moments are often closely linked to my children.

The sweat spot of fatherhood, for me, lies in the moments when my kid’s smile provides the only fulfillment I need.

On Sunday, this was the moment when my daughter’s smile allowed me to be carefree about the ticking clock, unconcerned with the cash in my pocket and content with doll shopping on Father’s Day.

My new American Girl experience was exactly what I needed and precisely what I used to laugh at.

The trip was a perfect gift – no matter the ribbing I’ll take from my brothers for admitting it.


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