Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Unicorn at the Dog Beach

He was tall, pale, and soft around the middle in that endearing way that forty-something married-with-children men tend to be.
He was wearing the very same swim trunks as every other father of small kids there at the beach - the ones stocked by Marshall’s within easy reach of wives headed to the checkout.
He’d expertly wheeled a cart loaded tidily with L.L. Bean bags and sand toys and umbrellas and chairs, staked out his patch of beach, and begun to unpack.  Then he stopped, dropped everything, and chased after his small son - a boy of about 3 or 4 years old, I’d guess.
"Hey, buddy," he said, corralling the kid under the umbrella.  "Gotta get sunscreen on first, right?"
He slathered the boy with sunscreen, then secured a hat on his little blonde head.  He sent him off with a playful pat on the tush.
"Why don’t you take that shovel and start on our castle," he suggested.  "I’ll be over to help in a minute."
Ladies, he had my attention.
And apparently I wasn’t subtle about it, because - to my horror - he addressed me.
"Oh, I’m so sorry," he said.  "We didn’t mean to disturb you.  We’ll try to keep it down."
Yup.  Courteous, too.
I waved off his apology and stuck my nose into a book.
I couldn’t help but keep my antennae tuned in to the activity at the beach blanket next to mine, though.  This guy set up camp like a pro.  He pitched in on sand castle construction helpfully.  He addressed his son with nonchalance and respect as a variety of issues arose.
"No, no - you shouldn’t put that in your nose."
"Well, if you really need to poop, we’ll go to the potty.  Only doggies can go on the beach."
"Sure we can have lunch.  Let’s just go wash our hands first, okay, buddy?"
This was something I had missed out on as a single mother.  This variety of man amazed me by his mere existence.  And I knew from my girlfriends who were married with small children that they were all too rare.  Far too many fathers out there failed to notice objects going into little noses until emergency room extraction was required.  They thought all the world was a bathroom.  And washing hands before eating?  Good luck getting the dads to do it, never mind their offspring.
This guy was a FIND.
And clearly, I was staring.
As he settled his son into a beach chair and carefully unwrapped the little guy’s sandwich, he struck up a conversation with me.  He was probably trying to ascertain that I wasn’t a loony about to steal his small child or boil his rabbit, but whatever.  It was a nice conversation.  I learned that his wife was home with their 3-week old baby, which only endeared the guy to me more.  He understood that his wife needed a break!  That she needed time alone with her new baby!  
Then he told me his mother had come to help.
Aha!  I’d discovered it!  His fatal flaw!  His poor wife was stuck home with the mother-in-law.  She was probably wishing for a natural disaster to put an end to her “help.”
"Will she stay long?" I asked sweetly.
"Oh no," Perfect Dad said emphatically.  "My mother doesn’t like to impose.  She’ll just do some laundry, look after the baby a bit so my wife can take a nap, and then head home."
A MIL who didn’t want to impose?  Dear lord, even she was perfect.
"Well," I said wistfully.  "I’ll let you get back to your beach time with your son.  Congratulations."
And then, as father and son sat nibbling apples, their profiles and mannerisms so similar I nearly laughed, I went back to my book.
With - truly - a little bit of a crush.  And the sense that I’d seen something not unlike a unicorn.

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