How to Dad (On Board)

A decade of Disney and diners with my daughter

My wife, Amy, and I do our best to embarrass our daughter, Katie. We are pretty good at doing this, me especially.

The first issue of Parenting New Hampshire came off the presses 25 years ago this month — almost exactly the same day I met Amy, my now-wife and mother of our 15-year-old daughter.

I can safely say that parenting was the last thing on my mind that night. It was a blind date — we had a nice dinner, saw a movie neither of us liked (those three months in 1993 are now known as “the summer of terrible movies,”) and arranged to see each other again.

Our second date was to a Boston Bruins playoff game against the Buffalo Sabres. I got obstructed-view seats and we planted ourselves in a secret spot I knew about on the third level of the old Garden. When she launched into a rant about the ineffectiveness of the dump-and-chase and suggested carrying the puck over the blue line to set up the weak side winger in front, I knew it was fate.

Two years later we decided we wanted to grow old together. (Note to Amy: We did it!) Then came a house and not long after, a kid.

Being a dad has been a bit messy at times, but I wear it well.

Every step of the way I remember thinking, ‘this is where life really begins.’ But it really did begin – literally – when our daughter arrived, somewhat unexpectedly, by way of an emergency C-section.

I sat by my wife’s head as the doctors did their thing behind a strategically placed sheet, designed, I assume, to keep squeamish parents from witnessing the science-fiction experiment going on just behind that thin wall of cotton.

Of course I looked. At first, I couldn’t really tell what was going on amid all the wife-innards, but I did get to see our daughter take her first breath in this world. The doctor asked if we knew what we were having. Other than “a baby,” we did not.

Someone said, “it’s a girl,” and suddenly I was a father and a Dad on Board columnist.

Well, not right away. First I had to wait for her to learn how to speak English and to be funny so I had something to write about. But those things happened, and here we are – 10 years into chronicling the Burkes of Sandown.

If you’re new to Dad on Board, here’s the short version: In any given situation, two out of three of us loves hockey, music, dogs and diners.

My first column had to do with Princess Jasmine costume earrings I couldn’t remove from Katie’s head.

In that first column in 2008, I explained how I got a pair of Princess Jasmine costume earrings stuck onto my kid’s ears during her fifth birthday party. My wife was at hockey, so I had to put her to bed with those two gigantic orbs sticking out of her head like an adorable little Frankenstein kid.

Fast-forward 10 years: my wife still plays hockey and Jasmine is never really far from us, if only because we are crazy Disney people. We travel to Walt Disney World as much as possible, so my daughter actually comes in handy as an excuse for those repeated visits to the Orlando area – like a walking, talking human-shaped fanny pack.

It’s one of the things that has not changed over the past 10 years. When this all started, she was a precocious five-year-old who listened to Laurie Berkner and was lulled to sleep every night by my wife singing “Moon, Moon, Moon” to her.

She loved dogs – still does. Back then, we shared our home with a pair of noble German Shepherds. I’ll skip the part about how we miss them terribly, because everyone knows how life with a dog eventually ends. Now we live with a small, extremely un-noble rescue mutt who my daughter named Figgy. He walks on his back legs and – I swear – speaks English (with a slight accent).

The cover of the June 2011 issue of Parenting New Hampshire. We’re famous!  

For a few years after that, we were a youth hockey family, which meant from late August to mid-April, we’d spend every weekend driving to games all over creation. When that ended, we were an archery family. We’d fling arrows at targets every Saturday morning at a range in the back of the Bass Pro Shop in Hooksett with a great group of coaches and athletes.

Now we’re a music family. She plays bass guitar and double bass in her school’s orchestra, chamber orchestra, jazz band and rock ensemble, and she plays in a rock trio where she regularly shakes the greater Southern New Hampshire region with her Rickenbacker 4003.

Pink Floyd has taken the place of Laurie Berkner (is it possible I’ve parented too perfectly?) though I still occasionally hear “Moon, Moon, Moon” coming from her room shortly before my wife comes to bed. I’m glad she indulges her mom.

Ten years ago she’d plop down for an episode of “Little Bear” on Noggin. Now she’ll binge a few episodes of “Psych” on her laptop. Most of our time now is spent either waiting to drive her someplace, or actually driving her someplace. It’s a good thing, though, because when we’re in the car, she can’t get away and I can either a) Pepper her with questions about her day at school until she answers out of exasperation, or; b) Lecture her about music as we flip through the radio channels.

By my math, we’ve got about five minutes until she goes off to college. However, it’s probably worth noting that math and I haven’t been on speaking terms since the 1970s. Until that time comes, though, I plan on going to as many diners for our regular Saturday morning talks and taking her for walks along Main Street U.S.A. as often as I can.

I’m looking forward to seeing what the next few moments in time have in store for her and then writing all about it. And if one of those columns happens to be about diners, dogs or her dad retiring to a gated community somewhere in central Florida, all the better.  

Bill Burke is a writer who lives in Southern New Hampshire with his wife and daughter and is currently working on building a time machine so he can go back to 2008 and do this all over again. He is also the managing editor for custom publications at McLean Communications in Manchester.

Katie bonding with one of our beloved German Shepherds — you might not be able to tell but the dog is having a lot of fun.

One of the outtakes from this month’s cover shoot.

Photo by Kendal J. Bush

More Dad on Board columns by Bill Burke

The empty passenger seat

When my daughter gets her license I’m going to miss our time together

Excuse me – how much?

Stunned and stupefied at my daughter’s first college fair

As seen through our dog’s eyes

Just call us Chew Toy, Boss and Beni

The BIG question

What does she want to be when she grows up? She has a few ideas.

The not-so welcome wake-up call

Mornings start early in our house – our teen daughter is less than thrilled
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