I received an invitation over the weekend to participate in a writing project for my friend Marcus Goodyear as a sort of celebration for his new book of poetry (to take a peek yourself, click here ). The subject matter I was asked to write about?
Now you might think it would be quite a stretch for a guy like me to write about something like that, what with the cowboy hat and all. But you’d be wrong. I’ve been wanting to write about Barbies for quite a while.
I have a lot of experience with Barbies. Blame my daughter.
At eight, she’s closing in on that age when boys become interesting instead of gross. There has already been a few notes passed to her behind the teacher’s back. Last February, several Valentines with her name on them found their way into her school books. There’s even been one attempted phone call from a boy.
(A sad case, that. Poor boy was scared to death and promised to never call again. That’s what happens when you call a girl and her father happens to answer the phone instead.)
Handling this sort of situation is a tricky affair. On the one hand, laying down the law would be great for me. Not so much for her. And on the other hand, letting things be would be contrary to every impulse in my fatherly bones.
I had to find a way to get my point across without alienating her. I had to reach, not preach.
Enter the Barbies.
She’d been asking me to play Barbies with her for years, but I’d always managed to slip away. Chores to do, things to write, that sort of thing. As a boy, rule number one was that men do not play with dolls. But then the passed notes happened, then the Valentines, then the phone call, and, well…
So now I’m Ken. Preppy surfer who’s likely always gotten his way through good looks and rich parents. Drives a corvette and always has that come-hither smile plastered on his face. And, of course, infatuated with a very beautiful but physically disproportioned certain someone.
In the privacy of the living room floor, my daughter and I play. There are equal parts tension and reverie. Barbie and Ken fight, then make up, then fight again. They go on dates and pass notes to each other and plan an elaborate wedding. Between you and me, I still don’t get much out of it. I’m a guy. Dolls scare me. My daughter, though? She’s in heaven. And I’m hoping she’s paying attention as much as she’s playing.
Because preppy rich-boy Ken isn’t so much. Not when he’s in my hands. He’s kind and considerate to the woman he loves (or, as I put it to my daughter, “Crushin’ on”). He holds the door to the corvette open for her. He holds her hand and nothing else. He’s patient and waits while she gets ready because he knows she’s worth waiting for. They fight, yes. But it’s never bad and never for long and things are always better afterwards.
Ken sees Barbie as an equal in most things and as someone a little better in others. He protects her and keeps her safe from the toy soldiers my son often ambushes us with. And he is the epitome of self-restraint.
“How come Ken never kisses Barbie?” she’s asked me.
“Because they aren’t married yet,” I say. “That’s the rules. You always have to mind the rules.”
Playtime with a subtle warning thrown in.
How much good this will do is something I suppose I’ll have to wait to see. Life is all about choices, and it doesn’t matter if you’re eight or eighty. At some point, she’ll have to make her own.
But I’m hoping that on some faraway day when a real-life someone takes her on a date, she’ll remember playing with her father on the living room floor. And she’ll start thinking of herself as Barbie and her date as Ken, and she’ll remember the rules and the fact that they have to mind them.
And maybe she’ll measure the person she’s with against the person who taught her the rules in the first place.
I hope so. The bar’s high, no doubt.
As it should be.