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Our Writer Explores The Laws Of Energy

by Karen Karbo

The truth, sadly, is moms don't think much of men as dads. They may love the father of their children, but this is altogether different than respecting his ability to parent. Moms expect dads to be just like moms, only with deeper voices and a better memory for "Star Wars" dialogue.

I've got anecdotal evidence to back this up.

"My husband is terrific with the kids." We all know "terrific with the kids" is code for he acts just like them," says my friend Dolly, who has three grammar school-aged sons. "He can get one of those towel-snapping wars going at the drop of a hat. The kids love it. But why can't they hang the towels up when they're done? It's not too much to ask."

It's not too much to ask? Frankly, I wondered how Dolly stayed married. Everyone knows the "not too much" that a woman asks is inevitably a major concession for a man.

And don't most moms know that asking a dad fresh from the battlefield of a towel- snapping war to pick up the towel goes completely against a man's nature?

It's against the First Law of Thermodadnamics: to have a really good time with the kids, the house is going to get thrashed. A good wrestling match requires a lamp get broken. It's impossible to play in any meaningful way on the Playstation without someone standing on the coffee table. When real fun is happening, the kind kids remember for a life time, no one is thinking about the wood floor.

The wise mother knows that the price for having an involved father, a dad who truly enjoys his children and isn't just putting in the time because it's become a cultural expectation, is living in a place that looks like the Phi Delt house after a kegger. Women would do well to check out the interior design in "Malcolm in the Middle," the only TV show about a family with kids that doesn't set up false decorating expectations.

Moms, like women in general, and unlike dads, are never without an ulterior motive. We want the time we spend with our kids to have subtext, and the subtext is always educational. Most of the time part of the education is: if you make a mess, you need to clean it up. No kid wants to do this, and few moms have the patience to enforce it, so generally we stick to things like coloring. No holes get put in the wall when the kids are doing a connect-the-dots.

Thus, from a kid's perspective, there is no one like Dad. He's a real grown-up, but he also lets you throw french fries at the television when the kissing part comes on. He's the one who does accents when he reads bed time stories -- political correctness, wha'? And talk about setting a good example! He tracks in mud himself.

Dads are in touch with the true chaos of the universe in a way that moms are not. This is a valuable lesson; probably the most valuable lesson a parent can teach a child. Things fall apart. By mom's standards, they really fall apart when Dad's in charge.

I ran all this past my husband, a father of two and step-father of one, for verisimilitude. He was confused, got quiet. "Do I ever let kids throw food at anything? And we don't even eat in front of the TV. I really think you're misrepresenting me."

I'm the alpha bread-winner in the house. Ken is a UPS air driver who works part-time. He's not a stay-at-home dad, but he's certainly a home-more-than-most dad. He's home more than I am, in fact. He does a mean Tickle Monster, but also does all the grunt work of child raising: laundry, shopping and getting them to clean their rooms by themselves.

"I hate it when I walk around barefoot in the house and the floor needs sweeping," he said. "You know that. And have I ever ever broken a lamp? I'm always all over them about inside voices and elbows on the table and all of that stuff. I think it's more important that they don't seem like children raised by wolves than in having fun."

The Second Law of Thermodadnamics: Dads, like moms, resist stereotyping. (He did admit to standing on the coffee table).

Karen Karbo, who contributes here to keep us guys honest, lives in Portland with her family. She is the author of Motherhood Made a Man Out of Me. (Bloomsbury)

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