By Patrick Hempfing
My 9-year-old daughter Jessie loves to watch Dancing with the Stars. Frequently, she jumps up from the sofa and dances along. Jessie knows that she’s the star of our family. During one episode, the cast danced to “The Fox (What Does the Fox Say?)” by Ylvis. The men wore fox costumes. It was pretty entertaining, but the song has a catchy tune that is hard to get out of my head.
The song’s lyrics touch on sounds that animals make—“Dog goes woof, cat goes meow, bird goes tweet, and mouse goes squeak.” Then the lyrics point out that no one knows what the fox says. Each time the question, “What does the fox say?” is raised, the answer is a different string of sounds, such as “ring-ding-ding-ding-dingeringeding,” “wa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pa-pow,” and “hatee–hatee–hatee-ho.”
Hearing the song made me think of two things. First, it seems like I was just teaching Jessie the different sounds that animals make. How did I go from woof, meow, and tweet to rocks, minerals and fossils (Jessie’s recent science homework). Her math homework is also becoming difficult. Pretty soon, I may be better off trying to find out what sound the fox makes than helping Jessie solve for x.
More importantly, the song made me think, “Why ask what the fox says?” The bigger question is, “What does the dad say?” Don’t get me wrong; Jessie is a well-behaved little girl, but there are times when I think she’d hear me better if I was Taylor Swift, Katy Perry, or Carly Rae Jepsen. I’m amazed at how quickly she picks up words to songs. However, when I say, “It’s cold out today; wear a long-sleeve shirt and pants,” and she comes out in a short-sleeved shirt and skirt, it makes me wonder.
Maybe if I sing my requests, I’ll have greater success. I know I won’t be able to compete with Taylor Swift or Ylvis, but here goes.
Oh Jessie, when it’s time to wake up for school and you pull the covers over your head—what does the dad say? “Get-get-get-get-get-up-now. Get-get-get-get-get-up-now.” When we should have left for school five minutes ago—what does the dad say? “Hur-hur-hur-hur-hur-ry-up. Hur-hur-hur-hur-hur-ry-up.” When it’s time to start your homework—what does the dad say? “Nowie, nowie, nowie, now. Nowie, nowie, nowie, now.” When it’s time to go to bed—what does the dad say? “Off-off-off-off-off-to-bed. Off-off-off-off-off-to-bed.”
I could even use this tune when Jessie comes to me with a question I can’t answer or a topic better covered by her mother. For example, if Jessie asks for details about where babies come from—what will the dad say? “Go-go-go-go-ask-your-mom. Go-go-go-go-ask-your-mom.” This song will also come in handy when she wants to date a boy before I think she’s ready—what will the dad say? “No-no-no-no-not-a-chance. No-no-no-no-not-a-chance.” One day, Jessie may want to move across the country, and though I’ll be proud of having raised an independent daughter, what will the dad say? “Boo-hoo-hoo-hoo-Boo-hoo-hoo” (repeat numerous times and then repeat numerous times again).
I don’t really care what the fox says. I do care, however, about what I say as a dad and that it falls on attentive ears. There will be many times in the future (as in the past) when Jessie hears all, part, or none of what I say. But each day, whether I say it in words (or sing it) or show it with my actions, I hope Jessie will see, hear, feel, and know—“I’ll-always-always-loooovvvve-you! I’ll-always-always-loooovvvve-you!”
It seems like I was just dancing with my toddler, her little feet on top of my shoes as she hung on with each step I took. She’s growing up so quickly. Today, if Jessie stood on my feet, the steps would go much slower; an extra 80 pounds atop foot bones make it more difficult to move with grace and swiftness. So I conclude with one final lyric—my little girl’s growing up. What does the dad say? “Slow-slow-slow-slow-slooooow-down. Slow-slow-slow-slow-slooooow-down.”