Remember playing dress-up with your dad?
You don’t? Oh, that’s because dads used to have DIGNITY. They were hidden behind newspapers and pipe smoke, too inaccessible to be roped into playing princesses or cops and firemen. Dignity: That’s what being a grown-up used to be about. Not to be confused with standoffishness, lack of emotional connection, or needless pride.
Things are different now: You have a pink boa around your neck, a crown on your head, and purple lipstick on your lips. You are a pretty, pretty princess. You’re a New Dad, not afraid to mix it up, let loose, and have a little fun. Great. So dignity is not in the cards, but how do you make it through dress-up without feeling like a big idiot?
Your daughter has ingested enough princess stories to know that princes save princesses. What kind of message is that? You want to raise a strong girl. But making princesses save the prince? A little too on the nose. That’s why I like to play the creepy dungeon dweller who turns out to be a sweetheart. Or a second princess who got lost on the way to her castle. Make the story weird! “Excuse me, other princess, I’m looking for the castle with the cupcake shop in the catacombs!”
And what better time to teach your son about city government? Maybe your fireman is ineffective because he’s worried about his pension payments. Or maybe you’re a cop on the take. “It’ll cost you eight hundred claims to get me to arrest that ineffective fireman. Yeah, yeah, we’re all worried about the social safety net.”
Being a parent sometimes just means doing what your kid wants. In improv, we call this “Yes-Anding.” You go further by building on your partner’s ideas. He wants a fireman to hang out with his policeman? Sure, go for it. Put on your best Boston accent, go gung ho, and start barking out fireman orders. “Theahs a fiah in the Hahvahd Coop. It’s spreading down Comm Ave to Kenmoah Squayah!”
Tired? Not in the mood to be an active participant today? Any dress-up situation can be subverted to include a trapped (lazy) parent. Princes got locked in towers, train engineers get locked in control rooms, monsters need to sit on couches for a bit. Be hard to rescue—so hard that you get to chill out for a while. “Troll need a little time on Twitter.”
Did you always want to be beautiful or graceful or talented? Maybe you always wanted to be a dancer—now’s your chance! Your kid has very little critical judgment and is easily impressed by commitment. Belt out your song, dance with abandon, throw off the shackles and play, you wonderful fool! Your kid will never be as blinded by love for you as he is now. “What an honor to win the first Oscar for Most Incredible Dancing in the Olympics!”
Reprinted from Man vs. Child: One Dad’s Guide to the Weirdness of Parenting, published by Abrams Books and available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.
Doug Moe is a longtime teacher and resident performer based at the legendary Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, and has appeared in such television shows as Inside Amy Schumer and 30 Rock. He is the creator of the blog manvschild.com. He lives in Brooklyn, New York, with his wife and daughter.