Harry, my four-year-old, is into fashion. This morning, he emerged from his bedroom wearing a red bandana, a pair of soccer shorts, and a short-sleeved T-shirt that read THIS KID RULES. When he asked me if he looked cool, and if his brand name shorts made him look like a real soccer player, I said: “Harry, the man makes the clothes. Not the other way around.” He responded by falling down on the living room floor, and between comically loud guffaws, he said, “Silly Daddy, kids don’t make clothes! And I’m not a man!” With his red bandana tied neatly at the back of his head, he looked like a miniature Bruce Springsteen coming back from a trip to the gym. I laughed and he laughed, and then I asked him to go put on long pants and a jacket so we could go to the park.
In a flash, he was upright and stomping his feet at me. “No, you can’t make me wear pants! I like shorts!” He crossed his arms. He looked at me as if I’d just threatened to take away every toy in his room and burn them on the lawn. As a stalling tactic, I sipped my English Breakfast and looked out the window. Frost covered our cars in the driveway. Bundled up in a parka, gloves, and winter boots, my neighbor (originally from Wisconsin) was walking his dog on the sidewalk, his breath escaping in thick, white plumes. “It’s winter, Harry,” I said. “You can’t wear shorts until spring.” He gritted his teeth. He balled up his fists. He growled at me like a hungry lion. “You can’t make me do anything!” I resisted the urge to lecture him, a habit I’ve been trying to break ever since I stopped being an English professor and became a stay-at-home dad.
Instead, I watched my only son storm into his bedroom and slam the door behind him. I finished my tea. I waited until my heart beat slowed, and then I knocked on his door. “Harry, may I come in?” No answer. I knocked a second time. “Fine,” he said, “you can come in.” Inside, I found him laying face first on the rug, his red bandana now tied around his wrist. “I’m not going to take off my shorts, Daddy.” His tone was matter-of-fact rather than angry. I stepped farther into the room, removed a pair of thick sweatpants from his dresser, and tossed them on the ground beside him. “Sit up,” I said. “I’ll show you something.” He didn’t move. “Please,” I said pulling out my iPhone. “I think you’ll like it.” Sighing heavily, he sat up, and I showed him a video of Harry Kane, my son’s and my favorite professional soccer player, practicing his dribbling skills on a snowy field in London. “You see how Harry Kane is wearing sweatpants with his shorts over the top? You see how Harry Kane is wearing a cool soccer jacket?” My son smiled. He asked to see the video three more times.
When he’d had enough, he gave me back my phone, and I asked him if he was ready to get dressed. Without responding, he removed his shorts, revealing a pair of Lego Batman underwear. He put one leg into the sweatpants, and then stopped and looked at me. “I’m doing this for me,” he said. “Not for Harry Kane.” I nodded. He put on the sweatpants with shorts over the top and then added a jacket. He asked me to retie his red bandana around his head, which I did. “I’m ready to go to the park,” he said. “First, you need to eat breakfast,” I said. “No candy or marshmallows, either.” My son then gently shoved me out into the hallway. “I’ve got a lot of things on my mind,” he said, shutting and locking the door behind him.