Where Is the Kid, Anyway? by Walter Robinson

Walter Robinson and daughter Antonia, 1988-ish, Clinton Street, NYC. Photo courtesy the author.


Welcome to my new column* on parenting, specifically about being a single male parent of a little girl. Your correspondent is one such parent, blessed with a beautiful sweet child too good for this world. She’s nine. Touch her, you die, dog.

Future installments will address psychological and socioeconomic aspects of child-rearing, such as “Boys Should Be Hit on the Head with a Stick” and “Gross Things and Swear Words,” but for now let’s stick to the basics. Like, where is the kid anyway and how do we keep her once we’ve found her?

Your top priority, once you’ve unleashed a new life into the world of shiny happy people, is keeping tabs on your bundle of joy. The parent is obligated to provide protection, guidance, and all-around sage counsel. In other words, keep that kid under control.

This is the essence of parenting, which we shall call the “heel” principle, in emulation of dog obedience training (a fraternity with many lessons to offer the new parent). You want the kid to walk at your side, or at most a half step behind. Handy to grab, to guide, to hurry along, to steer away from the bums and working girls and the rest of the usual sidewalk fauna.

For little women, by the way, the “heel” idea has larger significance. Looking on down the road to when she’s older, the single father can expect to face serious problems with heels of other sorts. Like when she’s 25 or 30 and wants to start dating.

Such surveillance is learned gradually during the lifespan of the parent and is easiest in the first year. If the kids can’t walk, or even crawl, it’s not going to get too far. The downside is you’ve got to carry your charge.

It’s later, when the dear bug learns to move on its own, that parenting becomes ¬†basically a matter of keeping the kid where you want it. That means close to you, but not too close.

Too close, and they get under your feet and badda-bing! down you go. Too far and they’re dawdling, while you constantly stop and beg, “Come on!”

Leashes are out. Handy, tempting, sure, but they leave something to be desired, metaphorically speaking. Dogs and deposed heavyweights belong on leashes, not kids. Then again, a leash might be just the thing for a boy.

When you go somewhere without your kid, you want her to be where you left her when you return. That’s why parents have to take their kids to places instead of sending them alone. “What am I supposed to do?” I once said to a nosy fuss who suggested that my daughter could be dropped off at a movie and then picked up later. ‘Come back and hope she’s still there?”

The heel principle especially comes into play in the city, where the problem area is primarily the sidewalk. The idea of expeditiously proceeding from Point A to Spot B, for the average ambulatory tot, is an idea from outer space. The Giants move downfield faster.

It’s like you aren’t actually going anywhere, you’re exploring concrete and curb in a vaguely directional fashion. Sidewalk spelunking. And scratching the random itch requires the complete halt of all forward progress, whether located in the middle of an intersection or a drug buy.

Like with all good ideas, the question is how to put the heel principle into practice. What do dog trainers do? Don’t they use an electric prod?


*”It’s a Dad’s Life” originally appeared in Paper¬†Magazine from 1992-95.
Walter Robinson is a New York-based artist and art critic.