Some years back, in that gauzy era of irresponsibility and moral turpitude that I enjoyed before making babies, I visited a friend whose wife was pregnant. Now, one unhappy by-product of my current status as a volume kid-maker (I have three) is that I can no longer recall with clarity events that have occurred more than, say, 15 to 20 seconds ago. So I don't remember how I let myself be drawn into a discussion about children with my friend's wife. At some point, though, we reached the calamitous moment (for me) when she—a third-trimester, impregnated human female and former child actress with a decidedly still-dramatic temperament—declared that she would love her future child more deeply than her husband would. Indeed, she said, all mothers love their children more than fathers, largely because the twin burdens of pregnancy and childbirth cleaved them together in ways men could not match. The feeling, she further implied, was mutual: Children love their mothers more than their fathers.
Before I proceed with the remainder of this story, I'd like to point out that I'm an idiot. This is something that my fellow DadWagon colleagues will readily confirm, and I won't belabor the page with substantial proof of this, other than to submit my response to my friend's wife's assertion. I laughed—one could even say I chuckled with some condescension—at a woman seven months pregnant, which means I crossed a seething cauldron of anger, resentment, back pain, urinary urgency, and ill restraint. I also let slip these words: Now, now—I don't remember much, but I do remember that fucking "now, now"—That's a bad way to think about parenting. Your kids, if they know you think that way, will learn to associate love with pain, and that's not healthy."
Do I need mention that she ordered me out of the house? Eventually, she forgave me, or at least she said she did, and now, with time and my own reproductive experiences highlighting my foolishness, I wonder if she was right. My children love me, and yes, like Matt, there are certain things I accomplish with them more easily (putting them to bed springs to mind) than their mother, but the maternal bond is powerful, something hardwired into their psyches, like the Love version of whatever goes on in the amygdala.
Here's the thing, and I offer this question without truly knowing the answer: So what?
I am their father, I have their love, and they are tied to me in whatever way they are tied to me. If the nine-month swim in their mother's belly, combined with the whitewater (sort of) rush out of her body and into the world, proffers some greater kinship, what possible difference can it make to me? They remain my children, nevertheless.
Let's say my wife and I divorced. Would we line the kids up, like dogs, and call to them, vying for their loyalty, and whomever they came to got to keep them? (Efficient, yes, but think of the lawyers! They need to eat, too, no?)
Holding the upper hand in parental competence, affection, or connection strikes me as unimportant when compared to the greater task of raising them to know not to give advice to pissed off pregnant women. There are weightier issues demanding my guidance—who else will teach them dirty jokes, long division, the categorical imperative—and it does no good to get hung up on trying to outdo their mother.
So I don't care who is good at what, who loves whom more than me, and I never, ever attempt to out-mommy Mommy. It is a game I suspect I can lose only by trying. And idiot or no, I know that however much love I receive is more, far more, than enough.