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Fat With Cats

by Mark Doerr


Suddenly, everyone I knew was allergic to cats. It was a pandemic that rolled across the landscape faster than the acrid smell of aged kitty litter. I figured the sudden scourge happened only because our house was overrun with cats of all sizes and I had launched a worldwide search for customers. But all our friends, relatives, coworkers and casual acquaintances had come down with lifelong cat allergy.

What is it about cats that makes so many people allergic to them? I've never once met a person, friend or enemy, who is allergic to dogs, gerbils, hamsters, snakes, lizards, turtles or pet rats. Of course, our household has never been overrun with such creatures the way we were with cats, a situation causing only one person in the family any huge amount of stress: me, the dad.

The invasion of the kittykats began weeks earlier, late on a cold night when one of our three daughters, Elizabeth, wanted to rescue a cat. The phone rang when I was in that gray state just before falling asleep and, mistakenly, I answered it. This was just stupid. I as a father with three daughters I learned long ago that the phone rang only at two when someone wanted to talk to one of the girls or when there was bad news for me.

This time it was bad news. Elizabeth, a high school senior, was visiting a house where some guy friends of hers lived. There were no parents, just guys living there with a cat which, she said, was suffering in the presence of all these guys who claimed they would do cruel things to the cat. I told her guys say stuff like that because they think it impresses girls. She said it was sick and offensive. I knew that. I didn't say guys were smart. But, I counseled, they don't mean it. I explained that guys have a defective gene that prevents them from understanding women so they do hugely stupid things to get attention. This was one of them. Apparently Elizabeth wasn't listening.

She wanted to bring the cat to our house. I sat bolt upright, wide awake. No, no, no, no. We already had a cat, a giant named Omar who was big enough to take up the space of a truckload of normal cats. We didn't need any more cats. I could fill this page with the number of times I said no, each in a new and distinctive way.

I am the dad. As one of the parents, I am certain at least part of the house belongs to me. I should have some say about what biological forms are allowed to inhabit the place and I'm a one cat at a time dad. I've been in houses with multiple cats, houses that one could barely enter without a gas mask, houses where people live who are like Norman Bates from the movie Psycho.

No more cats!

Forty-eight hours later Simon arrived in the arms of the daughter to whom I had said no several million times. I looked at my wife, Cathy, for support, but something had happened to her brain. Her eyes were all soft and moist. I bellowed protests in my most testosterone of dad voices, a deep and authoritative voice which was completely drowned out by the sound of Simon's soft mew. By then all the women in this one man (two counting Omar) household were in love with Simon.

A child's love of a cat is far more passionate than the child's love of a father. Children love the cat because it's cute and cuddly with big eyes and an adorable face. They love fathers because he is the one who will end up feeding it, changing the litter box, paying the vet bill griping and cursing all the way. A girl child's love of a father expresses itself more in tolerance than in joyful exuberance, which is reserved for things like cats.

Which is why they didn't listen to me. I kept reminding them all that the smell of two cats is worse than the smell of one cat in logarithmic proportions. Cats pick up each other's bad habits, I warned. Our nine-year-old, Abigail, smiled as she pointed out that I didn't know what I was talking about. That's a terrible thing for a child to say to a parent even if it is true. Especially if it is true!

Through all of this, I kept reminding everyone that I like cats. Or more precisely, I like cat. One cat. I liked our cat, Omar, a lot even though in acquiring him, I learned once again that any man who claims he is in charge of the household is living in a dream world, especially if it is a world inhabited by females, wife and daughters. There was no discussion. In fact, I can't even remember driving to the animal shelter. I was just there and this little black ball of fur was biting my finger.

"He bit Daddy!" one of the children shouted. "Isn't that cute." That was how they decided which kitten they wanted.

Omar the cat grew from a tiny kitten into a monstrous thing larger than a 56 Buick. When Simon arrived, I was disappointed in Omar, the senior cat. By then, Omar was big enough to swallow Simon whole and has six toes on each foot giving him a paw about the size of a snowshoe. I expected him to use one to knock Simon silly in a fight for his turf. Turns out Omar has about as much authority as a dad. He didn't even growl.

Life hadn't even leveled out when we discovered Simon had nipples, perhaps dozens of them all across "his" tiny belly. Elizabeth had assured us Simon was a male and fixed.

I asked her how she knew this.

The guys, former owners of aforementioned feline, had said so.

"How did they know it was a male?"

Her recollection was that the guys said the cat was obviously a male because its name was Simon. Such is the irrational world in which a father of daughters lives.

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>Copyright © 1999 Mark Doerr.
All rights reserved.

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by John Gill

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